Social engineering attacks prey on human vulnerabilities, manipulating people into unknowingly divulging sensitive information or performing actions that compromise their security. To protect yourself and your sensitive data, be aware of the sneaky social engineering attack types commonly used by cybercriminals. In this blog, we will delve into five deceptive tactics, equipping you with the knowledge to stay one step ahead and avoid falling victim to these cunning schemes.
Phishing happens when cybercriminals pretend to be someone trustworthy, like a bank or a popular online service, to deceive victims into revealing personal information or clicking on harmful links.
Phishing remains to be the most popular method used by hackers. In fact, according to a report from CISCO, phishing attacks accounted for 80% of all security incidents in 2021. This is why it is concerning that most people still struggle to spot a phishing email. In a study conducted by Businesswire in 2015, they found that 97% of people worldwide are unable to identify sophisticated phishing emails.
How to Spot Phishing Emails?
Phishing emails are fraudulent messages that appear legitimate. They often contain urgent requests or enticing offers to manipulate recipients into taking actions that compromise their security. These actions can include clicking on malicious links, downloading malware-infected attachments, or revealing sensitive information like passwords or credit card details.
PayPal Account Verification: Notice on the image above that the email is claiming that your PayPal account needs urgent verification due to suspicious activities. It then asks you to click on "authenticate now." Clicking on this link would most likely send you to a fake website designed to steal your information.
To identify a scam email, pay attention to the sender's email address. First and foremost, legitimate emails from Paypal typically won't originate from a Gmail account. Legitimate organizations generally use their own domain instead of public email domains like gmail.com, outlook.com, or aol.com. Therefore, if you receive an email claiming to be from Paypal or any other organization, but it comes from one of these public email domains, it's highly likely to be a scam.
Bank Account Alert: An email pretending to be from your bank informs you of unauthorized transactions. It urges you to click on a link to verify your account details, but the link leads to a fraudulent website where your information is harvested. This kind of email is particularly suspicious especially if you can see on your online banking that there are no unauthorized transactions. In this scenario, the best course of action is to directly contact your bank to report the incident and not click on anything in the email.
Lottery Winnings: You receive an email congratulating you on winning a lottery. To claim your prize, you are asked to provide personal information or pay a processing fee. This kind of email is a scam to steal your money or identity. You should not be asked to pay any processing fee if you legitimately won a lottery. A legitimate lottery notification should also include details such as the specific lottery, the draw date, the prize amount, and instructions on how to claim the winnings. Scam emails may lack specific details or may ask for personal information upfront.
Social Media Manipulation
The latest statistics reveal that around 90% of the total US population actively uses social media. Indeed, social media has become an integral part of our lives, connecting us with friends, family, and the world. However, they have also become a breeding ground for social engineering attacks.
What is Social Media Manipulation?
Social media manipulation takes place when cybercriminals exploit information shared on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to deceive and manipulate users. Cybercriminals can use AI or spend hours mining these platforms for personal details to craft personalized attacks. They can analyze users' patterns of behavior based on their social media posts, and determine their specific interests. By leveraging this information, they can trick individuals into revealing sensitive data or engaging in risky behavior.
Here are a few specific examples of how social media manipulation is being done:
A scammer impersonates a friend on Facebook, claiming to be in a financial crisis and requesting urgent money transfers. Without suspecting foul play, the victim falls into the trap and loses their hard-earned savings.
A fraudulent post on Twitter promises a gift card to a popular retailer. Eager to claim the offer, users click the link, unknowingly providing their personal information to scammers.
A scammer creates a fake customer service account for a known brand to respond to legitimate customer complaints on Reddit. Pretending to resolve the customer's issue, the scammer obtains the customer's log-in information (which the unsuspecting customer willingly gave) to steal money from their bank account.
Moreover, oversharing personal information on social media can expose you to various risks because cybercriminals can use the information you share to guess passwords, answer security questions, or conduct identity theft.
By understanding the risks and being mindful of what you share online, you can better protect yourself from falling victim to social engineering attacks. Be cautious of suspicious requests or links, verify the authenticity of profiles before sharing sensitive information, and regularly review and update your privacy settings on social media platforms.
Pretexting means tricking someone by pretending to be someone else. The trickster tells a convincing story to get people to give out personal or secret information. They often use emotions, urgency, or the desire to help someone as a way to manipulate victims.
Here are a few common pretexting techniques.
Impersonating Important People: Tricksters may act like police officers, government officials, or important executives to scare or pressure people into giving private information.
Pretending to Be Tech Support: Scammers might pretend to be computer experts from well-known companies. They contact people, saying there's a problem with their computers or accounts, and trick them into sharing passwords or letting them control their devices.
Creating Emergencies or Urgent Situations: Attackers make up emergencies or urgent situations to make people panic or feel scared. They might pretend to be a family member in trouble, a bank employee reporting suspicious activity, or a service provider threatening to cancel an account.
How do you protect yourself from pretexting scams?
Check Independently: Don't just trust the information the person gives you. Find other ways to confirm who they are. For example, contact the organization or person directly using official contact details you get from a trusted source.
Don't Share Sensitive Information: Be careful about giving out personal information like Social Security numbers, passwords, or financial details, unless you're sure the request is legitimate. Legitimate people or companies rarely ask for this kind of information over the phone or in emails especially if they contacted you first because they should have this information already.
Be Doubtful of Unexpected Requests: If someone contacts you out of the blue asking for personal information or urgent action, be suspicious. Take your time, ask questions, and get independent confirmation before giving any private data.
Use Secure Channels: When discussing sensitive matters or sharing secret information, make sure you're using secure communication channels. Look for "https" in website URLs as a sign of encryption that protects your data from being intercepted.
Baiting attacks rely on exploiting human curiosity and the desire for something appealing. Attackers cleverly present bait in various forms to pique the curiosity of potential victims. This can include physical items like USB drives left in public spaces or digital downloads promising free software, games, or entertainment.
Types of Baiting Attacks:
- Physical Baiting: In physical baiting attacks, attackers strategically leave infected USB drives or other storage devices in public areas where they are likely to be found. The curiosity of unsuspecting individuals leads them to connect the devices to their computers, unknowingly introducing malware or unauthorized access into their systems.
- Digital Baiting: Digital baiting involves enticing victims with attractive offers or downloads, such as free software, movies, or music. These baiting techniques often appear legitimate but are designed to trick individuals into downloading malware or providing sensitive information.
To protect yourself from baiting attacks, exercise caution when encountering unexpected or unverified physical devices or digital downloads. Take a moment to consider the source, authenticity, and credibility of the bait. If something seems suspicious or too good to be true, err on the side of caution and refrain from engaging with it. Installing and regularly updating antivirus software can help detect and block potential threats. Additionally, make it a habit to scan all devices, including external storage, to identify and remove any malicious content. By being mindful and proactive, you can safeguard your security and avoid falling prey to baiting attacks.
Scareware uses fear and intimidation to trick victims into thinking their computer is in danger. It often appears as pop-up messages or ads that claim your device is infected with viruses or other harmful programs. These messages may warn of dire consequences if you don't take immediate action.
How Scareware Works
Scareware typically uses alarming messages and false security alerts to create a sense of urgency. It tries to convince you to click on the pop-up or download a software program that promises to fix the problem. However, these scareware programs are themselves malicious and can cause harm to your computer.
Protecting Yourself from Scareware
Stay calm and don't panic: Remember that scareware is designed to make you feel scared and rushed. Take a deep breath and stay calm. Don't let fear dictate your actions.
Don't click on suspicious pop-ups or ads: If you see a sudden pop-up or an ad claiming your computer is infected, avoid clicking on it. Closing the pop-up or navigating away from the webpage should be sufficient.
Use reputable antivirus software: Install and regularly update a reliable antivirus program on your computer. It can help detect and remove genuine threats, including scareware.
Be cautious when downloading software: Only download software from trusted sources, such as official websites or reputable app stores. Avoid downloading programs from unfamiliar websites or clicking on suspicious download links.
Keep your operating system and software up to date: Regularly update your computer's operating system and software applications. Updates often include security patches that can protect against scareware and other threats.
By raising awareness about these sneaky social engineering attack types, you can better defend yourself against cybercriminals and safeguard your personal and professional data. Stay informed, adopt security best practices, and share this knowledge with others to create a more secure digital environment.