What Is Social Engineering?

Social engineering is a type of psychological manipulation which utilizes human interactions and vulnerabilities to trick victims into disclosing sensitive information.

The information could be personally identifiable data such as social security numbers, log-in details, or corporate financial information. Once cybercriminals collect this information, they can use it to commit fraud or identity theft.

Social engineering taps into the natural instinct of trust. Through carefully worded emails, texts, or voicemail messages, criminals manipulate victims into disclosing sensitive and confidential information.

The social engineering life cycle follows the following steps:

·       Preparation

The first stage of a social engineering attack is preparation. The criminal identifies the victim and gathers background information about the target. The criminal then formulates the attack strategy.

Where victims are organizations, the criminal gathers information including their structure and the roles and responsibilities of all employees. They also collect data about behaviors and susceptibilities the targets could succumb to.

Criminals conduct this research through the company’s website, social media profiles, in-person visits, or stalking.

·       Execution

In this step, the criminal deceives the victim in order to gain a foothold. This stage often involves a story that manipulates the victim into the desired emotion, such as fear, desperation, or loyalty.

At this point, the criminal has taken control of the interaction, and the victim will likely provide the requested information or complete the required transactions.

For example, execution could involve an ostensible email of the CEO requesting an employee to wire money to the given account, or to send the password to a certain database.

Criminals are manipulative and patient at this stage until they get what they desire.

·       Exit

Social engineering masterminds prefer exiting without a trace of their being in the affected location or arousing suspicion. They will siphon the data they need, remove the malware they used, and cover their tracks.

Criminals using social engineering employ six key principles to deceive their targets:

·       Authority

A person is more likely to obey a person in authority, often without objection.

·       Scarcity

Cyber criminals utilize the fear of missing out to their advantage. They will convince you that this is a rare opportunity for you to make the most of your money, encouraging you to invest in whatever they are selling.

·       Reciprocity

Sometimes, a criminal will gain trust by doing you a favor, for instance by helping you detect a vulnerability in your company’s system. Afterwards, you are more likely to “return the favor”, sometimes against your best interests.

·       Commitment and Consistency

A social engineering criminal might lead you to commit to an idea or responsibility, which you are then likely to follow through with because of the human propensity to follow through with commitments.

·       Social Proof

Trends are an example of social proof. People will do what they see others doing, either from fear of missing out or out of curiosity. This makes it easy for criminals to use enticing headlines, or text to lure you into installing malware or providing sensitive information.

·       Liking

Likability significantly influences humans into making decisions, including buying decisions. Cyber criminals will often wear a likeable veil to persuade their victims to provide the details or take actions that the criminal wants.

In a nutshell

Social engineering uses psychology to manipulate people into giving up sensitive information about themselves or their companies rather than using technology or breaking into the victim’s data.

These schemes manipulate victims by triggering feelings of fear, greed, curiosity, helpfulness, and urgency to trigger the desired response.



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