Why Do Cyber Attackers Commonly Use Social Engineering Attacks?

person holding phone

The threat landscape continues to evolve and expand, and hackers are finding success using social engineering tactics. Unlike other methods, skilled cybercriminals prey on human imperfections in an effort to prompt employees to disclose login credentials or sensitive information. Given the level of cunning involved in these schemes, it’s imperative that every staff member knows how to prevent social engineering attacks from succeeding.  

What is a Social Engineering Attack?

Social engineering is a modern-day type of confidence game mirroring many of the same tactics grifters use. Clever hackers employ psychological techniques using electronic messages. Once the mark lowers their guard, the digital con artist encourages them to provide otherwise restricted information such as their username and password. In other instances, the sophisticated hacker persuades the individual to unknowingly open a malware-laced file or click on a malicious link.

Why is Social Engineering Effective?

At first blush, the notion of someone tricking an employee into doing something they know is outside company policy seems like a stretch. After all, there are no real-life interactions, just letters on screens. As cybercrime increases, reports indicate social engineering has emerged as another significant threat.

  • Upwards of 98 percent of cyber-attacks involve some form of social engineering.
  • Between 70 and 90 percent of data breaches involve social engineering.
  • In 2022, over 80 percent of U.S. businesses were victims of at least one phishing scheme.  
  • Organizations are targeted 700 times annually on average.

Social engineering attacks typically cost businesses an average of $130,000 in recent years due to theft, digital file destruction, and restoration expenses. Online scammers send thousands of emails that appear to be generated from someone’s Amazon account, Facebook profile, or credit card company, among others. All this social engineering carnage is working for hackers because they prey on human weaknesses such as fear, greed, and a sense of urgency.

Types of Social Engineering Attacks

There are a variety of common and detailed social engineering schemes threatening businesses today. More refined approaches leverage information found on an employee’s social media and professional networking profiles.

Also known as “spear phishing," an example of social engineering would involve reading Facebook posts to learn about someone’s family, activities, and location. Coupled with professional information found on open platforms such as LinkedIn, a sophisticated hacker peeks into someone’s everyday life. The seemingly personal information can be used to build trust, as the hacker impersonates a real person in their orbit. These rank among the recent social engineering attacks being leveled at honest businesses.

  • Pretexting: This type of social engineering attack involves impersonating a third-party IT provider’s staff member. The scammer typically asks employees for network access information.
  • Smishing: Similar to email schemes, SMS phishing is a method that deploys text messages to employee phones. It’s surprising how many professionals list their personal number on Facebook and LinkedIn profiles.  
  • Vishing: Voice phishing ranks among the common scams used to steal credit card and bank account information from vulnerable community members. Although less prevalent in corporate attacks, a bold cybercriminal may take a run at remote workers over the phone.
  • Watering Hole Attacks: This approach essentially works backward. Hackers first infiltrate a public web page or set up a look-alike. Then, the con artist goes to work giving their mark a reason to visit the page and click on malicious links.
  • Whaling: Using a similar process as spear phishing, whaling attacks involve emails posing as business partners and executives. Believing the source is legitimate, employees are inclined to comply with requests.

It’s also important to keep in mind that cybercriminals continue to evolve their tactics. That’s why risk assessments and ongoing social engineering prevention are critical to protect valuable and sensitive information.

How to Prevent Social Engineering Attacks

The best way to prevent social engineering ploys from tricking an otherwise competent employee is to provide cybersecurity awareness training. Unlike threats that can be deterred with enterprise-level firewalls, antivirus software, endpoint security, or two-factor authentication, these sometimes highly intelligent adversaries rely on psychological warfare. When team members, from front-line employees to C-Suite leaders, can identify the telltale signs of deception, everyone knows how to prevent social engineering losses.

What a Cybersecurity Consultant Can Do for Your IT Security

At CyberTeam, our managed IT and cybersecurity consulting experts have the experience and technology to protect your company from a data breach. We provide risk assessments and educational resources to improve your security culture. We can help turn vulnerable employees into a front line of defense against hackers and their social engineering tactics. Contact us today and let’s get the process started.

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