The past decade has brought about a tremendous change within technology. Sure there are no flying cars around yet, but there are numerous inventions made to blow minds out! However, with this rapid evolution comes an unfortunate and fastidious development in hacking and its ways.
As the integration of AI and machine learning has made technology relatively “smart” and ultimately a difficult target for cybercriminals, there is now an outlook for other vulnerabilities to penetrate within.
Amidst this, the next big target for hackers to hack into is none other than the human mind! Long gone are the days when hacking was confined within technology. As dealing with “smart” technology seemingly comes off as awkward, the traditional ways of human hacking, commonly referred to as social engineering, are getting polished and revived.
The art of manipulating people
Social engineering, a technique often referred to as “the art of human hacking” in a tech-savvy way, has long since been present. However, recent years have seen a tremendous increase in successful human hacking attempts.
Criminals often use this technique as it is far easier to exploit the natural human inclination to trust rather than tactical maneuvering their way around security measures of technology. In simpler words tricking someone into revealing their passwords is far easier than trying to hack into a system!
As it is a technique that manipulates people into revealing confidential information, hackers ultimately get access to information or networks they were seeking to exploit.
While carrying out a social engineering attack, the type of information a hacker seeks varies over interest. Criminals may often trick people into revealing passwords, bank account credentials, or control over your computer.
As security, let it be over the web or in-person is about knowing who or what to place trust on. It is therefore crucial to be vigilant of who you let in.
How are social engineering attacks carried out?
If you take it from any security trained personal, it is quite common knowledge that humans are by far the weakest loop present looping the chain of security.
However, exploiting, even this weakest link is a method that goes in calculated steps and procedures. While carrying out this attack, social engineers use a wide range of tactics, but the grounding framework of the attack stays the same.
Within most social engineering attacks, the attackers start by researching background information on the target crucial for launching the attack.
This information varies as per targets such that if it is an organization, the background information may consist of employee structure, ongoing projects, business partners, or common lingo used amidst workers among various other information.
Also, the attackers focus and observe behavioral patterns of ground-level employees with initial access within the organization, such as security guards or receptionists. For this, the hackers scan a person’s social media profiles, along with keenly observing their online behavior and habits.
Once they have all the intel, they use it to design a suitable attack and exploit all the vulnerabilities discovered during research. A successful social engineering attack means hackers are getting access to sensitive information such as bank information or passwords, and using such information to make money, enter into protected networks or infecting a system or a network.
Types of Social Engineering attacks
Social engineering attacks revolve entirely around human interaction. While the grounding framework of the attacks is somewhat the same, these attacks, however, appear in many faces amongst which some of them are described below:
1. Baiting attacks
As what the very name of this attack depicts, it exploits the human inclination of interest or curiosity. By piquing the victim’s curiosity or interest over a matter, hacker lures them into a trap which steals their sensitive information or injects their system with malware.
Baiting is quite typically used to disperse off malware, and this attack features the use of physical media. One such example might be an attacker dropping bait in the guise of a malware-infected USB drive.
Hackers are careful to drop such baits among conspicuous areas such as bathrooms, elevators, or parking lots of target organizations so it may grab the attention of potential victims. The bait comes with a legitimate and catchy look, such as bearing a label of the company’s upcoming promotion list.
If the bait grabs the victim’s attention, he is bound to insert it into a home or work computer, which would automatically set off malware installation within the system.
Baiting attacks are not necessarily confined to physical media, but instead, they occur online too. Online baiting methods consist of enticing advertisements or pop-ups that direct victims to malicious sites or coerce them into downloading malware-infected documents.
These may also consist of maneuvering the victim into filling out online surveys or forms of a legitimate-looking platform and getting hold of personal information.
One of the most popular kinds of social engineering attacks, phishing attacks are usually emails or text message campaigns that create a sense of fear, urgency, or curiosity among victims.
It then exploits such emotions and coerces people into spilling out their personal information, downloading or opening malicious attachments or clicking on malware-infected links.
One such example might be a legitimate-looking email from the bank alerting a policy violation and asking for bank account information along with an immediate change of passwords.
To fully capture the victim’s trust, these emails contain legitimate-looking links to websites that are a stark replica of the original and thus convincing the victim to reveal information and change passwords.
Phishing campaigns go on large platforms and simultaneously target several people. As near-identical messages are sent to all the victims within one campaign, detecting and blocking these attacks is somewhat easier if mail servers have access to threat sharing platforms.
In this attack, the hacker uses cons victims to reveal information through skillfully crafted lies. The attacker may carry out this attack by instilling a sense of urgency within the victim and then by pretending to need sensitive information to perform a specific task.
Here again, attackers exploit the human inclination of trust. They start by establishing a measure of trust within their victim by impersonating as a legitimate personal such as coworkers, a police, bank or tax official depending upon the attack they have to launch.
Pretexting is a method of gaining all sorts of information and records such as house addresses, social security numbers, bank account information, security information, and various other personal information.
The very name of this attacks paints a vivid picture of how it is executed that is the victim is given a scare through fictitious threats and false alarms. One such example might be the victim receiving pop-ups of malware infection in the device. These pop-ups would them into immediate action by downloading an application that is, in reality, a malware itself.
At times these pop-ups may direct victims to malicious websites which will instill infection in their device rather than asking for a download. Apart from pop-ups, scareware is also spread through spam emails giving out fake warnings or prompting to subscribe to harmful services.
Some other common names of scareware are deception software, fraudware and rogue scanner software.
Can human hacking be prevented?
Although social engineering goes in frustratingly simple techniques, which make seem prevention somewhat impossible. However, several ways prove useful in preventing this art of manipulation. The following tips can help protect from social engineering attacks:
2. Use two-factor authentication
Hackers mostly target acquiring user credentials, which they can use to gain access within accounts, networks, or devices. Having two-factor authentication ensures that your account or system remains protected even if the password is compromised.
As it features sending a confirmation code to the personal cell phone or emails or the use of biometric authentication, two-factor authentication, therefore, ensures there is no unauthorized access to your account.
2. Have an update antimalware software
As most social engineering attacks are carried out to launch a malware campaign, having a legitimate and regularly updated antimalware can help remain protected.
Malware infections are, unfortunately, quite a regular occurrence. Having updated antimalware can help you get rid of such infections and ensure protection.
3. Stay skeptical online
As social engineering tactics work based on trust, therefore it is better to remain skeptical of every activity online. Before opening emails, it is better to double-check if it is from a legitimate source or not.
Similarly, while clicking on the links or gullible believing in prompts and pop-ups, it is better to have a thorough look to check their legitimacy.
Human hacking or social engineering involves manipulating the human instinct of trust, along with feelings such as fear or curiosity. It is, therefore, better to remain vigilant of online activity and wary of whom to place trust on. With prevention from social engineering, the best way is to stay alert!