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Social Engineering Could Be a Threat. Here’s How to Guard Against It.

When you visualize cybercriminals, you probably imagine sophisticated technical wizards who use their programming genius to hack into some digital system, as if they were breaking through a brick wall. But many of today’s cybercriminals are a somewhat different breed.

Indeed, many hacks and data breaches are the result of social engineering. Because many businesses have no solid plan or foresight with regard to social engineering, they remain vulnerable to this type of attack.

What exactly is social engineering? Why is it such a threat? And how do you guard against it?

Why Cybersecurity Should Be One of Your Highest Priorities

Cybersecurity should be one of your highest priorities, and every department and team member in your organization should share that priority. A single data breach can be devastating to your firm: It could potentially ruin your brand reputation and cost you dearly, leaving you open to lawsuits and fines.

In addition, small companies are among the most common targets of cybercriminals, so even if you don’t feel particularly vulnerable, you ought to take this kind of threat seriously.

What Is Social Engineering?

Social engineering is a type of scam or attack that relies on building trust with the targeted victim. There are literally dozens if not hundreds of ways a cybercriminal can utilize social engineering to get the information he or she seeks.

A very simple example of social engineering goes like this: A person walks into an office building, strides up to a staffer, and says, “I’m from IT. Could I get your username and password please?”

An unsuspecting worker might not see anything out of the ordinary about this, and might hand over username and password, effectively granting the criminal access to any data or materials in the system.

Most social engineering scams are more sophisticated, but not much more. Cybercriminals sometimes fake landing pages, make phone calls, or send emails pretending to be a trusted authority in pursuit of critical information from their target.

Why Is Social Engineering Such a Threat?

This poses a major threat for several reasons.

  •       Anyone can do it. You don’t have to be a technical expert, nor do you even require any programming skills, to effect a social engineering con. In the example described above, this is something literally anyone can do.
  •       It lowers defences. The point of social engineering is to lower the defences of the target. The first goal is to create a sense of trust, which makes this a sneaky and sometimes difficult attack to detect.
  •       It’s incredibly versatile. There are many different types of social engineering attacks and schemes. If you’re creative, you can come up with something fundamentally new. It can be used in almost any communication channel and endlessly reinvented.
  •       It can gain significant access with minimal information. Often, a single username and password is all it takes to gain access to a treasure trove of crucial data. A social engineering scheme can triumph without having to do much.
  •       People underestimate it. Another reason social engineering is such a threat is that many people don’t take it seriously. Some aren’t even aware it happens. Everyone believes they would never be dumb enough to give up their password – until they’re duped, and it happens to them.
  •       It’s constantly evolving. Finally, we have to recognize that social engineering evolves continually. Today’s scams are more sophisticated than ever, and criminals keep finding new ways to one-up their predecessors.

How to Guard Against Social Engineering

Fortunately, you can take advantage of many inexpensive and easy strategies to guard against social engineering attacks.

  •       Educate yourself and others. First, educate yourself and the other people in your organization. If you know about the most common social engineering scams, and can recognize the hallmarks, you’ll be less likely to fall for an attack.
  •       Always check the source. Never trust a person blindly. Always validate the source, such as by checking the URL, validating identities, looking at specific credentials, or calling the company directly.
  •       Take your time. Most social engineering attacks depend on urgency and pressure to drive their targets to action. If you take your time, you’ll be in a much better position to make a rational decision.
  •       Use strong spam filters. Many modern social engineering scams originate in email, so deploy strong spam filters to reduce the likelihood that such messages will make it into the in-boxes of your employees. No spam filter is perfect, but it’s a good line of defence.
  •       Limit individual access. Finally, make sure none of your users have access to information they don’t require. If you limit the access of each user individually, no single social engineering attack can devastate your firm.

Social engineering is a serious threat, but not an insurmountable one. With proactive planning, specific protection measures in place, and a serious attitude toward cybersecurity throughout your organization, you’ll be in a much better position to defend yourself from these incursions.

Lisa Baker is Group Editor for the Need to See IT Publishing Group. Lisa writes about HR, Technology, Health, the Environment and Business.
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