How To Protect Against Social Engineering Attacks
Social engineering attacks generally use some form of social manipulation that produces heightened emotions — we explore how to identify and counter them.
Updated May 19, 2021 • 3 min read
Cyberattacks, from cryptojacking to ransomware attacks, are increasingly common. Most involve some form of social engineering, which exploits victims’ psychological vulnerabilities. Identifying and preventing social engineering attacks is central to protecting against these threats. The first step in protecting against a social engineering attack is to identify suspicious indicators of potential social engineering by always being on alert.
Cyberattacks, from cryptojacking to ransomware attacks, are increasingly common, with hackers using sophisticated methods to infiltrate computers, networks, and systems, often with an eye to ransom payments in cryptocurrency. Most cyberattacks involve some form of social engineering, or methods of exploiting human, rather than technical or software, vulnerabilities. Identifying and preventing social engineering attacks is central to protecting against these ongoing threats.
Identifying a Social Engineering Attack
The first step to protect yourself against a social engineering attack is to identify suspicious indicators and be on alert. Basic personal security precautions are an important first step. Avoid downloading attachments from unknown sources, or even attachments sent from familiar email addresses that might seem suspicious in some way. Indications of a social engineering scam include poor grammar or unusual formatting in phishing emails, especially from established institutions. Suspicious websites might contain irregular URLs, typos, or other design inconsistencies that should tip users off to a spoofed website.
Email hacking is rampant, so even unsolicited responses that seem out of the norm from regular correspondence with colleagues and friends should be a red flag. When in doubt, confirm independently with the sender by calling to check whether a suspicious email was in fact meant to be sent, or by asking the trusted source in person if possible.
Social engineering attacks generally rely on some form of social psychological manipulation. Scams often rely on heightened emotions – such as panic, curiosity, or desire for reward – exploited by a message or website. Any email or offer that seems too good to be true, or which demands immediate action for rewards to be collected or damage averted, should be calmly scrutinized. There is usually time to do proper research before clicking a link, downloading an attachment, or divulging sensitive information. A good rule of thumb is to refrain from giving out passwords or sensitive data over the phone or the internet.
When it comes to training staff and colleagues, it’s important to note that social engineering attacks often target lower level employees who can be tricked into believing managers or executives are requesting certain actions. Specifically, ensuring there are protocols for transferring funds and for releasing sensitive information or paying bills can be key to avoid social engineering attacks. Emergency requests, or emails sent from non-company addresses, deserve extra precaution. Everyone should be equipped before a potential attack with the security protocols needed to check the identity of users and verify the authenticity of requests.
Countermeasures Against Social Engineering Attacks
Keeping antivirus and antimalware software updated is important for identifying possible infections and blocking familiar malware from infiltrating your computer and associated networks. Multifactor or two-factor authentication (2FA) can be helpful to protect sensitive account information and applications, if one device or account is compromised. Updating operating systems on computers and smartphones, as well as keeping spam filters high, can help patch any vulnerabilities.
Other basic safety precautions can also prevent social engineering scams from taking advantage of your contacts or impersonating you. Strong passwords for each account can protect against basic hacking of your email and spamming your contacts. Limit the use of information such as place of birth, pet’s name, favorite vacation spots, and mother’s maiden name, which are commonly linked to online security questions. Finally, it’s important to keep devices free from scammers. Take great efforts to avoid installing unfamiliar USB sticks on your computer, or leaving a device unattended in public. The most important tool against rampant attacks is education and awareness. Staying vigilant may ultimately prevent scammers and will help ensure data, networks, wallets, and devices are kept safe from attacks.
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