What Is Social Engineering And How Does It Affect You?

World-famous hacker, Kevin Mitnick helped popularize the term “social engineering” in the 1990s, although the practice has existed long before that.

Essentially, social engineering is the art of manipulating people so that they give up confidential information willingly. Social engineering criminals are looking for various types of information.

Typically, social engineers are trying to trick individuals into giving up their passwords and bank information or are trying to access your computer in order to secretly install malicious software. This malicious software can give social engineers free access to your computer and all personal information stored there.

Criminals use these tactics for a variety of reasons. For one, it is usually easier to exploit individual humans than to learn how to hack into software. Basically, social engineers are looking to exploit human psychology and operate under the assumption that people are naturally trusting.

Social engineering is incredibly dangerous because even if your organization has a robust security system in place, a skilled social engineer can still weasel their way around the security measures by getting you to give up your private information willingly. Given the dangerous nature of social engineering criminals, you need to be prepared against potential attacks.

What Are Examples Of Social Engineering Attacks?

Security professionals will tell you that the weakest link in the security chain is the individual who accepts another person or scenario at face value.

Knowing what a social engineering attack looks like could help you protect yourself in the future.

Email

Social engineering attacks could come in the form of an email. Have you ever received an email from an unknown source asking you to click on a link or download a file? Be very suspicious of this type of email.

Often, social engineers have infected these links and downloads with malware in order to gain access to your computer. Once a criminal has access to your computer, they have access to your email account, social networking accounts, contacts, and anything else stored on your computer.

Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks are another type of social engineering strategy. Phishing attacks imitate a source that you trust and simulate a logical reason why you should hand over your personal data. Phishing attempts usually come from a seemingly legitimate source like a well-known company, bank, or school.

Social engineers have also been known to ask people to donate to charities. In this way, criminals prey on human generosity.

Social engineers might call your cellphone and pretend to be a fellow employee or a trusted outside authority like a law enforcement officer or auditor.

Web Browser Hijacking

Browser hijacking may be the most common form that social engineers use to gather sensitive information and your money. You may be attempting to access a familiar website, when all of a sudden you hear a loud beeping, a firm voice, and/or a red screen saying that your computer has been infected with a virus and you need to call Microsoft to get it resolved.

You will call the number, they will ask to gain access to your computer, and then they will charge you hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars to “remove a virus” that was never there in the first place. Sometimes they’ll even try to setup a computer maintenance plan with you.

Social engineers will utilize text messages, email, phone calls—essentially all forms of communication—to seek out potential victims. Thankfully, there are some practical steps you can take to protect yourself.

How Can I Protect Myself From Social Engineering?

Don’t trust anything that looks even slightly suspicious. Of course, many social engineers are very skilled in their craft and have trained themselves to seem legitimate. These are some practical tips and best practices to guarantee your information is protected:

Delete all requests for financial information or passwords. Basically, assume that any message you receive with a request for personal information is a scam, unless you were the one that initiated that conversation.

Delete requests for help. If you receive requests for help from a charity or organization that you have no connection to, delete the message. If donating to causes or charities is important to you, research reputable sites and organizations before donating.

Set your spam filters to high. This site can show you tips and tricks for setting your spam filter: https://clean.email/gmail-spam-filter

Fact-check with a simple Google search. For example, if you get a prompt from “Microsoft” asking you to call them, open up a new browser window on your phone or computer and google what Microsoft’s tech support number actually is. They will never ask you to call them.

Install anti-virus software. Installing a paid version of anti-virus software can protect you from malicious external links and downloads and will alert you to any potential risks.

Get Help Today

Social engineers are smart and are constantly finding new ways to exploit peoples’ information.

If you are concerned about the threat social engineers pose to your information security, our computer doctors can help. Let us perform a security analysis on your computer—get some peace of mind today by ensuring your information is secure.