We’ve all received a badly worded email in the past promising us a great fortune or claiming we are winners of a prize draw we didn’t enter. The ensuing process usually means following a sketchy looking link or filling out a data input form. This type of activity constitutes what we in the business call a “social engineering” attack. Of course, crude attempts like this are often easy to spot, thanks to improved awareness and security. Unfortunately, more vulnerable or inexperienced internet users do still fall victim.
The bad news is that the world of online fraud is becoming more sophisticated and organized. In particular, some social engineering attacks are now incredibly refined and able to catch out even the most security conscious individuals. Sadly, these scams work just as effectively against people sitting at their desk at work as they do against people sitting on their couch at home. Should the former occur, businesses can quickly find themselves exposed, with sensitive data ending up in the hands of cybercriminals.
Therefore, for C-level executives, there’s a real need to understand the risk of social engineering attacks and to have measures in place that limit the likelihood of them succeeding. In this article, we will look to break down exactly what the term means, explain how fraudsters are using the method to target businesses and individuals alike, and detail some measures to reduce the effectiveness of social engineering attacks, should they occur.
Breaking Down Social Engineering
Social engineering is a broad term and can mean many different things. When looking to find measures to prevent it, individuals must first understand some of the forms that it can take, as they often require different solutions. Rather than solely relying on emails, many social engineering scams now utilize other means of communication, such as phone calls. Alarmingly, many of these attacks also increasingly contain a physical dimension.
Some social engineering scams, such as baiting, can be pursued either online or in-person. As its name suggests, this form of attack is designed to push someone to commit a specific action. An example of a physical bait would be a USB drive left unattended on someone’s desk, which deploys malicious software on a computer once inserted. This attack can also work online, either through a fake advertisement, or website.
One of the most well-known forms of social engineering is catfishing. This form of attack has been in the limelight in TV and film in recent years but remains a powerful tool for fraudsters. Catfishing happens when a fraudster creates a fictional persona to earn a victim’s trust. Often, this is achieved by falsifying a romantic relationship with the victim. Alongside causing monetary losses, catfishing attacks can cause personal psychological trauma.
Perhaps the most well-known form of social engineering scam is phishing. Phishing can take many forms, but normally centers around a fraudster sending a fake but realistic-looking message to a victim, which looks to pry sensitive information away. As mentioned previously, phishing scams of the past have often been easy to spot. This is certainly no longer the case, with many attacks now very difficult to identify without the right education.
Simple Measures for Security
Baiting, catfishing and phishing are three of the most widespread forms of social engineering attack. However, fraudsters have other tools at their disposal, which can also cause issues. Regardless of the method, companies and individuals can take simple steps to ensure they’re as protected as possible. While these measures won’t guarantee safety, they will at least provide a solid first line of defense, which can limit the effectiveness of social engineering attacks at home, or at work.
As with any pursuit, the first step to lessening the threat of social engineering attacks is to raise awareness around the subject. Informing people about the different forms of attack and detailing any new trends within the social engineering space is an important start. In a professional context, this can be achieved through mandatory staff training sessions on the topic. Doing so can give employees the confidence to recognize attacks as they’re happening and may help to stop scams in their tracks.
Leading on from this, it’s also critical to establish clear security protocols when handling sensitive company data. Again, this applies to both individuals and businesses. In general, it’s important to always retain a certain amount of caution whenever handing over sensitive information, either online or in person. Within businesses, C-level executives can go further and implement strict policies and protocols that must be followed in such circumstances. Likewise, ensure different departments communicate routinely and clearly with one another about the risks of social engineering attacks.
Investing in Protection
The aforementioned points are great first steps for businesses and individuals looking to prevent social engineering attacks. However, for businesses, there are more significant solutions that can be implemented to fully fortify systems. For one, hiring a social engineering prevention company is often worthwhile. Formed from white hat security experts, these companies can test employees and websites for vulnerabilities and points of weakness, bringing them to attention before fraudsters exploit them.
Businesses should also consider leveraging ID verification technologies within their systems, which are able to identify whether email addresses, IP addresses and phone numbers are associated with known fraudsters or show signs of fraud. For example, a reverse email lookup search can reveal the risks associated with a certain email address. Similarly, IP address checks can establish whether a user is legitimate or using a proxy server. With these solutions in place, employees can properly scrutinize requests for any sign of fraud.
Time to Take Action
From everyday consumers to huge multinational corporations, nobody is safe from social engineering attacks. However, from a monetary perspective, fraudsters have more to gain from targeting companies, which makes them an increasingly sought-after target. For those in the C-Suite, the challenge is to find measures that can limit the effectiveness of such attempts as they happen. Fundamentally, education around the topic is a huge part of the battle and is the starting point for change. However, to really fight fraud there are further effective options that need to be implemented.
Sadly, however, it’s almost impossible to prevent some percentage of social engineering attacks from succeeding. The good news is that the broader fraud prevention ecosystem is now becoming better at recognizing when stolen information is being used. This more holistic approach to the challenge is certainly a step forward, but still can’t be relied on to wholly eradicate the problem. Particularly for businesses, the risk remains too great to ignore, which is why C-Suite executives must remain focused on the challenge at hand.