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    What is Social Engineering, and How Do I Stop It?

    Social engineering attacks have become one of the most insidious and effective techniques used by cybercriminals. Unlike traditional cyber-attacks, which rely more heavily on vulnerabilities in technology, social engineering techniques manipulate human psychology to infiltrate secure systems and gain access to sensitive information. 

    With human error consistently representing one of the largest threats to a business’ data security, it is important to understand how these attacks function and the correct methods of stopping them. 


    What is Social Engineering?

    Social engineering refers to any cyber-attack that relies on manipulating individuals into performing actions that compromise the business’ security. These attacks can take many forms, but the common thread is an exploitation of human trust and the tendency to obey authority or social norms.

    Some common social engineering techniques include: 

    • Phishing: Most commonly, sending fraudulent emails that appear to be from a trusted source to steal sensitive information. Phishing can take other forms - for example, when done via a phone call, it is called ‘vishing’. 
    • Pretexting: Creating a fabricated scenario to trick individuals into providing information.
    • Baiting: Offering something enticing to lure victims into providing information or downloading software.
    • Quid Pro Quo: In contrast to baiting, which often offers a ‘reward’, this technique involves offering a service in exchange for information.
    • Tailgating: Gaining physical access to a restricted area by closely following someone with legitimate access.

    Strategies to Prevent Social Engineering

    Due to the variety of ways a social engineering attack can be performed, a combination of several different strategies is required to prevent them. 

    1. Employee Education and Training

    The first line of defense against social engineering attacks is a well-informed workforce. Regular cyber awareness training sessions should be conducted, to educate employees about the various forms of social engineering and how to avoid them.

    Key training components:

    • Educate employees about the different types of social engineering attacks and their warning signs.
    • Conduct regular simulations to test employees' responses and reinforce training.
    • Encourage employees to report suspicious activities without fear of repercussions.

    2. Strong Security Policies

    Establishing clear security policies can help lower the risk of social engineering attacks. These policies should outline procedures for handling sensitive information, and the protocol for verifying requests.

    Important policies to implement:

    • Require employees to verify the identity of anyone requesting sensitive information, especially if the request is unsolicited.
    • Adopt zero trust principles, ensuring employees only have access to information necessary for their roles.
    • Develop and communicate a clear incident response plan to be used during potential breaches.

    3. Technological Solutions

    While humans are typically the target in social engineering attacks, technology can still play an important role in prevention. Security tools and solutions can help identify and block potential attacks.

    Essential technological measures:

    • Deploy advanced email filtering solutions to detect and block phishing attempts.
    • Use multi-factor authentication (MFA) to add an extra layer of security, making it harder for attackers to gain access even if they obtain login credentials.
    • Ensure all devices are equipped with up-to-date security software, to detect and prevent malware and other threats.

    Response Strategies

    Despite your best prevention efforts, social engineering attacks can still occur. Having a well-defined response strategy is crucial to minimize damage and recover quickly.

    1. Immediate Action

    When a social engineering attack is suspected or confirmed, you must act quickly to contain the threat. Disconnect affected systems from the network to prevent further access. Then, take steps to identify the scope of the breach. Once this information is gathered, inform relevant parties of the situation. This may include IT, security teams, the government, and affected individuals.

    2. Investigation and Documentation

    You must conduct a thorough investigation to understand how the attack occurred, and to gather evidence for potential legal action. This will involve reviewing system logs to trace the attacker’s actions, speaking to staff, and potentially working alongside cybersecurity experts to analyze the attack. All findings and actions taken should be recorded for future reference.

    3. Recovery and Remediation

    After containing the attack and completing the investigation, focus on recovering and strengthening your defenses to prevent future incidents. After you are certain your devices are clear of malware, you can begin the process of restoring affected data from your backups. Users should be instructed to reset their passwords, and security policies must be updated to reflect any new lessons learned. 

    Prepare for Cyber-Attacks with Expert Help

    The idea that your own personnel can be weaponized by cybercriminals is frightening - but, as with any cyber-attack, the threat presented by social engineering attacks can be mitigated. A combination of education, preparation, and a strong incident response plan will drastically lower the risk of an attack, and ensure you are prepared if it does happen. 

    ThreatAdvice’s flagship Breach Prevention Platform offers a vast array of solutions designed to improve your cybersecurity and protect your company data. Our cyber awareness training and expert guidance ensures your staff are ready for anything that comes their way . If you’re concerned about the impact social engineering could have on your business, explore our Breach Prevention Platform now.