Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks

The worldwide web has brought us all together. It’s an efficient tool that has made life easier, especially when running a business. While there’s a lot of good to be found within internet utilities and applications, there are many downsides, such as social engineering and phishing attacks.

One of the finest tools we can use to optimize online communications is email. Emails are the main form of communication for many companies out there. Some of the largest multinationals use email campaigns to inform their customer base about new products or let them know about the latest offers.

Cyber actors are well aware of this. They have designed multiple methods to access any valuable data they can get from your email address. There’s a good deal of phishing protection software you can find, but we think it’s more important to understand social engineering and phishing attacks, their reach, and how to avoid them.   

What is a Social Engineering Attack?

Social engineering is an attack used by hackers to grant them access to classified information such as login details, usernames, and more.
It relies heavily on the psychological elements of human nature and requires very little tech knowledge. A social engineer is very savvy with words. They understand how to use them to create scenarios and make their victims drop their guard.

Most people who fall for social engineering attacks never notice they’re being conned. These attacks are known for using multiple angles to deceive victims, making them offer their data without hesitation. The success of this attack method exploits human nature since it’s usually the weakest link of any security structure.

What is a Phishing Attack?

Phishing emails are the most common type of scam you can find online. You likely receive them daily, with most of them dropping straight to your spam folder. Most of these emails are made to look like they come from a legitimate source, with scammers doing their research on your company or you as a person to get you to click the links they send through these malicious emails. 

There are several different phishing scams. Some of them are refined, while others are more on the nose.

Phishing scams run on emails, social networks, SMS and voice messaging, or any social app meant for communication. Phishing can be directed toward high-profile targets like CEOs and politicians and make them hand over their data. Another phishing goal can be to plant ransomware in the victim’s system.

Common Indicators of Social Engineering

Social engineering and phishing have the same goal—to make you drop your guard and spill the beans about your data to a malicious third party. You can notice several indicators to keep your eye on:

  • Sense of urgency: if you receive a call or an email from someone telling you a critical account has been compromised, it’s advisable to act calmly before this so-called threat. Social engineers know the precise buttons to push to hit your sense of urgency and make you act harshly. Take a moment to examine if the danger is real and assess the best way to deal with it according to established protocols. Don’t lend your login information for any website to an unknown party.
  • Structure of the message: most companies have their unique way of sending emails. Established brands use phishing protection systems and protocols like DMARC to verify their emails for their recipients’ networks. A cyber attacker can mimic the look and feel of any brand, but something always gives them away. Look for generic greetings or signatures. Also, pay attention to the grammar of the message and the sender’s address. If you notice something fishy, it is best to disregard the message and label it as spam.
  • Hyperlinks and attachments: if you suddenly receive a message from a trusted sender asking you to click a link or download a file is best to tread lightly. This is one of the most common phishing methods and an easy way to plant ransomware or any other form of malware in your system.
  • Change of address: a social engineering or phishing attack can begin with something as simple as a supposed change of address. An attacker can easily send a message letting the receiver know he’s a trusted source using a personal email because he doesn’t have access to regular channels. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s best to call the sender and confirm they’re the one sending the message; otherwise, you’re facing a scam.        

How to Avoid Being a Victim

The best way to address these attacks is by taking preventive measures, such as procuring services for conducting penetration testing. Using phishing protection software comes in handy, but the human link in any security system needs to be trained to learn to identify social engineering or phishing attacks. The following are some of the most common methods to protect your company and yourself:

Don’t Click Anything You Don’t Trust

If you’re on a mailing list and receive an unusual email from a similar address, be suspicious. Especially if the structure of the message is different or if they’re asking for personal information. Don’t click on any links offered in these messages; don’t download any attachments included in them. 

Follow Security Policies and Protocols 

Every web platform has a series of protocols and policies to help its users know when they’re being scammed. Some, such as banks or other financial institutions, go as far as letting you know to never share your password or login information with anyone in their institution.

Learn About Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks

There are many scams in place, with many more being used for the first time every day. You have to make a reasonable effort to keep yourself informed about the latest tricks with a quick online search. Share your research about phishing protection with others and let them know about social engineering and phishing attacks so they can take preventive action. 

Keep Good Password Hygiene

You’ve probably heard this advice more than once, and it keeps being repeated because it works. Switch your password every three months and use a strong combination of letters, cases, characters, and numbers to make it hard to guess. The best passwords are a combination of a sentence or catchphrase with a set of numbers and one symbol. 

Final words

Social engineering and phishing attacks are an everyday occurrence. You disregard hundreds of these attacks every time you clean your spam folder. Email service providers do a good job at shielding you from most of these attacks, but they can’t prevent all of them.

As a user, you need to take action to avoid falling for one of these schemes.

Pay close attention to your interactions online. Learn how to recognize a trusted sender and use phishing protection software to keep your data safe. Your knowledge is the last bastion of defense against online scammers. The more you know about social engineering techniques and phishing attacks, the safer you’ll be.

Maria Colombo
Maria Colombo
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