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The human mind is organic by nature. When we say the human mind can be “hacked” in a sense, the concept seems terrifying. But it’s real, and the process is called social engineering.

   

Today, we’ll be discussing what social engineering is, and how social engineering hacking is being used to trick people into becoming victims of cybercrime.

Social Engineering And Its Vicious Cycle

Social engineering is when an individual or a group of individuals create a centralized plan to influence and regulate the social changes, behavior, and future development of a society.

   

There are 5 stages to a social engineering cycle.

  • Stage #1: Gathering Information
  • Stage #2: Plan Attack
  • Stage #3: Acquire Tools
  • Stage #4: Attack
  • Stage #5: Use Acquired Knowledge

Stage #1: Gathering Information

The first stage of the attack starts with the attacker gathering all the information they can get their hands on regarding the victim. These pieces of information are gathered from company websites and various publications made by the target.

In some cases, the attacker catfishes an individual target or the users of a targeted system to extract information.

Stage #2: Plan Attack

Based on the gathered information, the attacker creates a plan through which they can execute the attack.

Stage #3: Acquire Tools

Once the attack plan is set, the hacker then sets out to gather the required tools for the job. These tools include software, apps, or even full-fledged fake websites used to bait the target, and multiple devices to launch multiple attacks simultaneously.

Stage #4: Attack

With all the tools and plans to use the tools at hand, the attacker then commences the cyberattack on the victim.

Stage #5: Use Acquired Knowledge

Every piece of information acquired by the attacker can be considered a weakness of the victim in the case of a cyberattack. The hacker can and will use every bit of personal and other information they’ve gathered through different means.

Frequently Used Social Engineering Hacking Methods

There are several ways social engineering can be used to exploit one or several targets.

Familiarity Exploit

An individual user will always be less suspicious of people they are familiar with.  A hacker will exploit this part of human nature to access a system.

In this method, the attacker is often a rogue member of an organization. They familiarize themselves with the users of the targeted systems. This familiarization process can take place in many different ways.

It could be a simple act of holding the door open for the target in the office, a friendly chitchat, or an after-work hangout plan. The goal of the attacker is to extract as much personal and critical information from the target as possible.

Once enough information is collected, the attacker then proceeds to exploit the targeted system with the collected information and eventually succeeds.

Intimidation

People tend to avoid conflict. Attackers use this to their advantage. Some might pretend to have a heated argument on the phone with an accomplice as part of the scheme.

The attacker would then ask users for sensitive information that could be used to compromise the user’s system. People are more likely to give the correct information just to avoid a confrontation with the attacker.

This technique can also be used to avoid being checked at a security checkpoint.

Phishing

Phishing is when hackers create a website that’s impersonating a genuine website, and then ask users for their credentials.

   

Though it sounds simple, a well-designed phishing page is nearly impossible to detect or trace, and often the damage isn’t visible until it’s too late.

Tailgating

Tailgating is another real-world, physical method of social engineering. It usually works in the following ways:

  • The attacker walks behind authorized personnel through a secure area, heavily depending on the authorized personnel's courtesy to keep the door open for them
  • Disguising as a courier or a delivery driver
  • Someone carrying a lot of items to trick someone into opening the door for them
  • Someone claiming to have lost or forgotten their work ID at home is asking for admittance.

Tailgating allows an attacker to gain unauthorized entry into restricted areas, giving them ample opportunity to steal sensitive data or important documents.

Human Curiosity Exploitation

Humans have an endlessly curious nature, and attackers find it very easy to exploit human curiosity to cause harm to any unsuspecting victim.

Human curiosity exploitation is a social engineering hacking method that isn’t targeted at anything specific. This is one of the more cruel techniques that’ll ruin the life of any random person who becomes a bit too curious.

Sometimes a hacker will leave devices like a flash drive, a cell phone, or a laptop out in the open, the most common being the flash drive. Anyone who picks up any one of these and tries to access them becomes the victim without even knowing.

If it’s a flash drive, the goal is to inject malicious code into the system of anyone who plugs it into any of their devices.

If it’s a cellphone or a laptop, the victim takes them home most of the time, and that’s exactly what the malicious entity wants.

When these devices are taken into a house where a private network is available, these rigged devices will force their way into the private network and take control of the systems that are connected to that network.

Human Greed Exploitation

Many people out there regularly get scammed out of large amounts of money. Cybercriminals making fake promises of high financial gains, and swindling people out of their money is a common occurrence.

A common real-world example of this is the “Nigerian Prince” scam. Many have received random mail from a random Nigerian prince claiming to be authentic and offering the victim a part of their inheritance.

Once the attacker managed to lure them into the trap using their greed, they were then asked to fill out forms with critical financial information, which the attacker then used to empty their bank accounts.

How to Prevent Social Engineering Attacks

Beyond spotting an attack, you can also be proactive about your privacy and security. Knowing how to prevent social engineering attacks is incredibly important for all mobile and computer users.

Here are some important ways to protect against all types of cyberattacks:

Safe Communication and Account Management Habits

Online communication is where you’re especially vulnerable. Social media, email, and text messages are common targets, but you’ll also want to account for in-person interactions as well.

Never Click On Random Links

Hackers always mask their malicious URLs with a safe, desired one. To stay safe, never click on links. Instead, type them in manually so the embedded link in front of you can’t redirect you somewhere you don’t want to be.

To take an extra step, you can always try to find an official version of the URL in question. It’s in your best interest not to click on any URL that you have not verified as official.

Use strong passwords (and a password manager)

Each of your passwords should be unique and complex. Aim to use diverse character types, including uppercase, numbers, and symbols. Also, you will probably want to opt for longer passwords when possible. To help you manage all your custom passwords, you might want to use a password manager to store and remember them safely.

Use 2 Factor-Authentication

Online accounts can be kept safe with a strong password, but you can add extra layers of security when you add a multi-factor authentication method.

These “factors” include biometric authentication or temporary passcodes that you receive as text messages on your phone.

Avoid Sharing Personal Details As Much As Possible

Many set up answers to security questions with personal information. When you’re discussing personal information with another person, you might unknowingly give away information that can be used to crack your credentials.

Hackers exploit this mentality and invade the safety of many people every year. To bypass this situation, you could set up security questions with misleading information as answers.

If you had a dog as a pet, answer the question as “a hawk” or “a lion”. That way, you can throw off any prying eyes that are trying to exploit your data.

Be Careful With Online Friendships

The internet is a great place to connect with people worldwide. But sadly, social media platforms are also one of the preferred methods for social engineering hacking attacks.

When talking to someone online, be on the lookout for red flags that indicate that you are being manipulated into giving away information.

Safe Network Usage Habits

Attackers can easily exploit your network if you leave it compromised. Take caution today and practice safe network usage habits so you don't have your data used against you later on.

Keep The Guest Wi-Fi Separate

If you’re someone who frequently has guests over, make sure to keep a different network for guests, so that they don’t have access to your primary network.

You never know who wants to exploit the functionalities of your primary account, and it’s safer to keep your personal and guest networks separate.

Use a VPN

Whether your connection is wired, wireless, or even cellular, you can use a VPN to hide your data from unwanted eyes.