Social engineering is a deceptive and manipulative tactic used by cybercriminals to exploit human psychology and gain unauthorized access to sensitive information. In the current digital age, where personal and financial data is at risk, it is crucial to be aware of various social engineering threats and take steps to protect ourselves.
Today, we’ll take an in-depth look at social engineering, explore some common types of social engineering attacks, and discuss solutions to protect your data from imposters.
What Is Social Engineering?
At its core, social engineering is an art of deception. Instead of exploiting vulnerabilities in computer systems, social engineers manipulate individuals into divulging confidential information or performing actions that benefit the attacker. By preying on human psychology and trust, they gain access to personal, financial, or sensitive data.
These types of threats can be particularly difficult to mitigate using traditional security systems because there is no “hole in the code” that can be patched to solve the issue. That’s not to say that there is no solution to social engineering attacks; rather, addressing them in a truly secure way requires a more holistic approach than simply increasing perimeter security.
While they can vary greatly in tactics, most types of social engineering attacks have common goals. These typically involve gaining access to your systems in order to steal or tamper with valuable information, commit financial fraud, or compromise the security of individuals or organizations.
Types of Social Engineering
Before we discuss how to keep your data safe, it’s important to understand some of the types of social engineering attacks your data may face. While there is no end to the potential number of ways in which scammers can attempt to gain your confidence, the following are a few of the most common examples you may encounter.
Phishing is one of the most prevalent types of social engineering attacks. These attacks involve impersonating a trustworthy entity, such as a bank or a popular online service, to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information like usernames, passwords, or credit card details. Phishing attacks are typically carried out through emails, text messages, or fake websites designed to resemble legitimate ones.
Common phishing techniques include sending deceptive emails that mimic reputable organizations, creating fake login pages to steal login credentials, and using urgent or alarming language to prompt immediate action without stopping to assess the source of the message more thoroughly.
Fundamentally similar to phishing, pretexting involves creating a false scenario to deceive individuals into sharing confidential information. The attacker creates a pretext to gain the target’s trust, often assuming a false identity to sell the narrative. They may pose as a co-worker, customer support representative, or contractor to manipulate victims into revealing sensitive data or performing actions that compromise security.
Pretexting attacks often involve the scammer doing research and playing a slightly longer game to help them establish credibility. This allows them to leverage personal or emotional connections, and create a genuine sense of urgency.
Baiting attacks lure people into taking specific actions with an enticing or appealing offer. Unlike the previous two types of social engineering attacks, which primarily prey on fear, baiting exploits people’s natural curiosity or greed to trick individuals into compromising their security.
Different forms of baiting attacks include leaving infected USB drives labeled as important files, offering free downloads of pirated software that contains malware, or enticing users with the promise of prizes or rewards in exchange for sensitive information. While this may seem somewhat far-fetched, research has shown that hardware-based baiting scams can be a particularly effective social engineering threat vector.
Tailgating is an even more physical type of social engineering attack. Also known as piggybacking, these attacks involve an attacker gaining access to secure servers by physically following an authorized person through secured access points. This type of attack exploits the natural human tendency to hold the door open for others or be polite, allowing the attacker to gain unauthorized entry.
Tailgating attacks can occur in various settings, such as office buildings, data centers, or restricted areas. By blending in or exploiting moments of distraction, the attacker bypasses security measures and gains access to sensitive locations or systems.
A more in-depth alternative to tailgating is impersonation, where attackers assume the identity of legitimately authorized parties to gain access to your databases. Attackers may pose as employees, customers, and service providers in order to be let into places where they can then hack into your databases more easily.
Methods employed by impersonators can include using fake email addresses or phone numbers, manipulating caller IDs, or creating realistic social media profiles to establish credibility.
Quid Pro Quo
Perhaps the most direct form of social engineering attacks, quid pro quo exploits involve an exchange of something valuable in return for sensitive information or access. Rather than tricking targets into unwittingly granting them access, attackers promise a benefit or favor in exchange for personal or confidential data. This type of social engineering attack often targets employees within organizations.
Examples of quid pro quo schemes can include a scammer posing as an IT support technician offering free technical assistance in exchange for login credentials or an attacker promising a substantial discount or exclusive access to a service in return for sensitive financial information.
Protecting Against Different Types of Social Engineering Threats
As we mentioned above, addressing social engineering threats requires a fundamentally different approach than other areas of cyber security. Increasing the strength of passwords or introducing measures to prevent software-based attacks such as cache poisoning is completely ineffective when hackers gain access to your databases using legitimate credentials.
Contrary to popular belief, protecting your data from social engineering attacks also requires more than training. While employee training is a common step used to counter all types of social engineering scams, the human component often remains the weakest link in your security system. To this point, a 2022 study of different types of social engineering attacks concluded that “providing awareness against SE-based cyberattacks is not sufficient.”
Zero Trust Data Security
The true key to solving all types of social engineering attacks is rethinking our entire approach to cybersecurity. Traditionally, the focus of digital privacy systems has been to keep outsiders from accessing the private networks and stores where data is hosted. While there will always be a place for maintaining this security perimeter, relying on this alone leaves all data within vulnerable to anyone who has already gained access to the servers or data files.
This is where a Zero Trust framework for self-protecting data can be of the most use. Rather than simply trying to improve on perimeter measures, self-protecting data reimagines the entire approach to security.
As the name implies, the goal of self-protecting data is not just to keep hackers out of your system but to create truly secure files. Instead of being left accessible to any “trusted” users, self-protecting files themselves are coded with the ability to recognize malicious activity and counter it immediately, regardless of who appears to be performing the action.
Empower Your Data with Sertainty
Sertainty leverages proprietary and patent processes through its Data Privacy Platform and core technology that enable data to govern, track, and defend itself — whether in flight, in a developer’s sandbox, or in storage. These technology protocols mean that even if systems are compromised by AI tools or accessed from the inside, all data stored in them remains secure.
At Sertainty, we know that the ability to maintain secure files is the most valuable asset to your organization’s continued success. Our industry-leading Data Privacy Platform has pioneered what it means for data to be intelligent and actionable, helping companies move forward with a proven and sustainable approach to their cybersecurity needs.
As the digital landscape evolves and networks become more widely accessible, Sertainty is committed to providing self-protecting data solutions that evolve and grow to defend sensitive data. With the proliferation of human and AI threats, security breaches may be inevitable, but with Sertainty, privacy loss doesn’t have to be.