Are Social Engineering Attacks On The Rise?
True to their name, social engineering attacks see cyber criminals exploit people’s natural curiosity and inclination to trust familiar organizations or official-seeming communications.
According to the CS Hub Mid-Year Market Report 2022, 75% of security professionals stated that social engineering/phishing attacks are the biggest threat to cyber security at their organizations.
“The easiest way in [to a company’s systems] is through the weakest link, which generally tends to be individuals,” Jeff Campbell, a technology manager, told CS Hub. “Getting an individual to click on a malicious link or giving away information still yields successful results.”
4 Key Stages Of Social Engineering Attacks
A successful social engineering attack requires intensive planning, including strategy regarding what happens before the attack is launched and covering up its tracks afterwards. Here’s a breakdown of how scammers stage their social engineering attacks.
1. It’s All In The Preparation
During this critical stage, cybercriminals survey the field for ideal targets. This could mean using social media platforms, communication apps like Telegram, or other online mediums to scout out a target that will produce the most lucrative results and biggest impact possible via social media cybercrime.
Based on this research, the cybercriminals will select a methodology or combination of techniques, such as deciding to reach out to victims via social media, email, or similar as the medium for the attack.
2. The Infiltration
Cybercriminals understand that first impressions matter when it comes to winning victims’ trust. They invest heavily in the initial interaction which is meant to “hook” the victims. It’s also important that this interaction provides a pathway for infiltration.
Users are tricked into granting access so that cybercriminals can infiltrate deeper into the network. This could mean convincing victims to approve permissions to the cybercriminals, or gaining access by targeting system administrators who are the gatekeepers to a company’s internal systems.
At this stage, the cybercriminal has now won the victim’s trust. They’ve successfully breached a company’s anti-phishing defenses, and the data or information they’re seeking out is at their fingertips.
This is when the actual attack is carried out and the hackers achieve their goals, such as downloading a company’s trade secrets, internal processes, financial information, stealing other critical data, or encrypting files for ransom, to name just a few.
4. Time To Clean Up
After the attack has been completed, savvy cybercriminals will cover up their tracks and delete incriminating evidence or encrypt data, which makes it much more difficult for companies to determine the source or perpetrators of the attack, as well as exactly what was stolen.
It’s important to note that cybercriminals often leverage the data they gained during an attack for future attacks. These cybercriminals are clever enough to learn from their mistakes and successes during a breach, and are constantly refining their techniques.
What Types Of Social Engineering Attacks To Look Out For
There are three main kinds of social engineering attacks threatening brands, businesses, and even government entities today.
In phishing attacks, cybercriminals impersonate a trusted entity, using spoofed email addresses or fake social media profiles to give the appearance that they are the organization or individual.
An example would be a worker receiving an email from a cybercriminal, which they believe is actually coming from their employer. The cybercriminal sends the message from an address that’s similar or identical to that of the legitimate company, along with the company’s real logo and branding.
The legitimate-looking email contains a link, where the unsuspecting employee is tricked into sharing their company credentials. The cybercriminal can then gain access to the business’ internal system and data.
Similarly to phishing attacks, fake websites often use a company or business' real branding, logos, colors and more to perpetuate the illusion that the site is the real thing. This typically includes domain name look-alikes, which may use an alternative suffix (.net instead of .com) or common misspelling of the company’s name.
When customers make purchases on fake websites, they may receive counterfeit products for cheaper than the legitimate item or they may receive absolutely nothing at all even if they’ve paid. Depending on the type of attack and what the cybercriminals’ aims are, victims who supply their credit card information to these cybercriminals, may have their credentials stolen and end up the victim of financial fraud or their data being used for other nefarious purposes.
Real World Baiting
Like the other attacks listed here, real world baiting takes advantage of human nature to trick victims into handing over sensitive information. These attacks may see cybercriminals offering a reward - such as being able to view a movie - in exchange for users’ login or financial information.
The U.S. Department of Labor Social Engineering Attack
Last year, cybercriminals targeted businesses in a sophisticated phishing attack, which saw them set up fake websites and send emails that were indistinguishable from the U.S. Department of Labor’s authentic communications.
The scam offered businesses an opportunity to bid on an American government project. Victims received emails redirecting them to a fake website, which used the same design, HTML as the real government site. The fake website asked that users enter their Office 365 credentials, which many of them agreed to do.
The cybercriminals leveraged two common methods of phishing. Spoofed email addresses and buying lookalike domains that bypassed most business’ standard security measures. These messages also contained PDFs and email templates that looked as though they genuinely originated from the government agency.
The advanced attack included a failsafe of fake ‘error’ messages displayed to users when they entered in their credentials, in order to ensure that the correct credentials were given. The purpose of this attack was for credential harvesting of Office 365 log in details. The biggest impact of this phishing attack was reputational loss for the U.S. Department of Labor where any further emails for targeted individuals will be met with increased scrutiny and distrust.
This social engineering attack took advantage of users’ natural tendency to trust official-looking communications that come from the government, and demonstrates how cybercriminals techniques are growing more persuasive and convincing
How to Mitigate Social Engineering Attacks and Protect Your Brand
In order to beat the threat of social engineering attacks, you need to commit to a robust, multi-pronged strategy that tackles the phenomenon from multiple angles.
You need proactive, round-the-clock monitoring of your brand name, social media, and marketplaces online. Rather than waiting for an impersonation to be brought to your attention by confused customers or a frustrated authorized reseller, you need to be constantly scanning your brand’s online presence across a wide variety of mediums.
Time is of the essence when protecting your brand. Immediately taking down both brand and executive impersonations is a make-or-break factor for preventing irreparable damage to your brand reputation and image. Acting fast, by swiftly detecting and speedily initiating takedowns, is one of the most important elements of an effective brand protection strategy.
Every minute that cybercriminals present themselves as representing your brand online means an increased likelihood of financial loss and shattered customer trust.
This cycle of monitoring and quickly taking down impersonations should be a permanent feature of your strategy to battle social engineering attacks. You need constant, 24/7 tracking of your brand’s name online, plus a lightning-fast response to emerging threats.
Battling Social Engineering in 2023
BrandShield safeguards your brand from social engineering attacks with our all-in-one platform, which features cutting-edge, proprietary technology that ensures you’re always on top of online impersonations and the misuse of your brand name.
Our innovative brand protection and around the clock digital risk technology, coupled with our team of seasoned experts and IP lawyers, means that you get protection that includes monitoring, analyzing, prioritizing, detecting, and taking down of online threats, all in a single solution. Meaning you can take down threats, impersonations or attacks quickly, efficiently and with ease.
For more on partnering with BrandShield to protect your brand from social engineering attacks, get in touch with us today.