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Social Engineering Attacks: What are They and How Can You Prevent Them?

September 1, 2022

Here’s some food for thought: you can build the tallest fence around your house to keep your family and property safe, but if an insider opens the gate to strangers, then all of your security protection efforts are for naught. Well, the same goes for your data; no matter how complex you make your passwords, the frequency at which you change them or the security you add to your network, including the use of data encryption, hackers and scammers know there’s one vulnerability they can always count on—human error. In fact, Verizon’s 2022 Data Breaches Investigations Report revealed that the human element is responsible for 82% of data breaches.

Social engineering attacks use this “human loophole” to get around cybersecurity roadblocks, like passwords or multi-factor authentication. Unfortunately, these common attacks have advanced and evolved at the same rate as technology, making it extremely difficult to identify threats.

What does a social engineering attack look like?

Social engineering is the act of exploiting security weaknesses created by human loopholes in order to gain access to sensitive information, even if it is protected behind firewalls and other security measures. Rather than hacking, it relies on manipulating people to give cybercriminals access. This is an incredibly common technique used by cybercriminals. In fact, social engineering tactics are deployed in 98% of cybercriminal attacks.

You might recall one of the biggest social engineering attacks of all time that impacted two of the world’s biggest companies: Google and Facebook. For these attacks, Lithuanian national Evaldas Rimasauskas posed as a computer manufacturer that closely worked with Google and Facebook. Scammers sent a series of phishing emails, disguised as invoices, to employees, directing them to deposit money into fraudulent accounts. And these employees did! As a result, the two tech giants were cheated out of over $100 million.

Phishing attacks aren’t going away anytime soon, either. Microsoft recently sent a warning for companies to be aware of potential phishing attempts by Russian-linked groups.

Don’t be a victim – understand three common social engineering tactics

It’s important to note that social engineering encompasses a broad spectrum of malicious activity. There are several techniques a cybercriminal may use to seize your data, so be on the lookout for these three common attacks:  

  • Phishing: Arguably the most common social engineering attack, hackers will use deceptive phishing emails, websites, text messages and more to steal your sensitive information, including names, addresses and Social Security Numbers.
  • Pretexting: The pretexting technique is employed when an attacker creates a fabricated scenario to steal someone’s personal information. The scammer will typically impersonate a trusted entity or individual, claiming to need certain details for identity verification. If the victim complies, the attacker could commit identity theft or use this data to conduct other malicious activities.
  • Baiting: Similar to phishing attacks, but baiting uses the promise of an item or good to entice its victims.  

Almost all of these techniques take advantage of people’s willingness to trust certain requests and to mindlessly click on links or open virus-laden attachments.

How can you protect yourself and your organization against social engineering attacks?  

The Harvard Business Review article “Your Employees Are Your Best Defense Against Cyberattacks“ explored  the ways business leaders reduce this human-based liability. The authors argue that creating a “security-aware culture” requires the entire community to be committed to security, including going beyond the mandated security training. This means that it is up to leaders in each organization to set an  example and encourage all their team members to adopt a zero-trust mindset.

While this is important for organizations, it is just as important for individuals to take this mindset and go above and beyond when it comes to their own data security. One thing you can do right now to uplevel your security culture and reduce human loopholes, is to embrace new technologies. For instance, look to a solution that enables you, and everyone around you, to retain complete control over all data, especially sensitive data.  

Check out EB Control, an easy and affordable solution that will keep your data in good hands—your hands. With EB Control, you decide who can access your data, when and where it’s accessed and what can be done with it. Trust no one. Retain control of your data, forever.

Click here to learn how EB Control can protect your data against malicious social engineering attacks and more.