Other Threats

Social Engineering Attacks and Prevention Methods

social engineering attacks

Social engineering attacks are the process of gaining unauthorized access to a system by abusing mistakes or weaknesses in human behavior. In other words, it is described as the art of deception.

As cyber criminals can carry out cyber attacks using electronic systems and networks. However, by targeting the weak link among the employees of the organisation, they can also take the advantage of people’s weaknesses and mistakes by abusing them with social engineering techniques.

Thus, they can gain unauthorized access to systems. Besides your systems, your identity, personal, and business life are also targeted in social engineering attacks.

What Is Social Engineering?

In general, the main goal to gain unauthorized access to a system with social engineering attacks is to exploit the weaknesses in human behavior. Thus, they use various persuasion and deception methods to obtain the required information.

Social engineering attacks are one of the oldest and most dangerous types of cyber attacks in Internet history. Kevin Mitnick comes to the fore in most popular stories of social engineering attacks.

Kevin Mitnick, the oldest hacker in computer history, is known as a social engineering genius. The social engineering concept popularized by Kevin Mitnick and defined as the act of deception to get confidential information and letting people do things they don’t want to do with their own will.

Due to our nature, we can and do make mistakes at almost any time. In this regard, cyber attackers benefit from social engineering techniques to take the advantage of human mistakes. Thus they gain unauthorized access to systems or confidential information.

What Are Social Engineering Methods?

Cyber attackers use many methods and events that trigger a certain humane emotion in the target such as fear, excitement, and joy in social engineering attacks.

People but especially the employees of organisations with low cyber security awareness targeted and forced to make mistakes by triggering such emotions. Later on, cyber criminals exploit this mistake to gain unauthorized access to systems.

On the other hand, fear is a great source of motivation for cyber attackers. Attackers use panic-inducing language to induce fear, threat and similar exciting emotions to make the victims obey their wishes.

In this regard, cyber attackers often take the advantage of important events, popular games, tournaments, or special occasions such as Valentine’s Day in their social engineering attacks and achieve great success. This allows cyber attackers to gain access to sensitive data such as credit card information, personal data, and passwords.

For example, only a few minutes after the tsunami disaster in Japan on March 1, 2011, fake news websites hosting malware infected millions of computers.

What Are the Stages?

The first stage in social engineering attacks is the determination of the target and choosing the victim. In general, the weakest link, i.e., ignorant and careless users preferred while choosing the victims. Cyber attackers collect information the target user to proceed to the second stage.

Gathering information is the most important stage in social engineering attacks. It also creates a foundation for the next stages. Cyber attackers do not care about the value of the information. They try to gather all kinds of information about the target, and they usually use social networks to do so.

Weakness scanning processes come into play in the third stage.

Weakness scanning carried out manually or by using automated tools. The identified weaknesses with the weakness scanning procedure used in the next stage.

In the last stage, efforts paid to achieve success and eliminate all kinds of evidence that may arise.

In general, many different techniques used in social engineering attacks. Some of the most popular techniques are;

  • Shoulder Surfing
  • Dumpster Diving
  • Role-Playing
  • Phishing
  • Trojan Horse
  • Reverse Social Engineering

These techniques can be implemented specifically for the target victim. They can be also implemented for all the employees of the target organisation.

Considering the available technologies, depending on the mutual interaction, social engineering attacks are grouped under two headings. These are;

  • Human-Based Social Engineering Techniques
  • Computer-Based Social Engineering Techniques

What Are Human-Based Social Engineering Techniques?

This is the technique that includes direct communication or interaction with the victim or victims. The main goal in this technique is obtaining the desired information directly from the targets.

Methods such as role-playing, pretending to be a third party, or using help or support services can be used in this technique.

What Are Computer-Based Social Engineering Techniques?

Besides communicating or interacting directly with the victims, computer-based techniques also used in social engineering attacks. Without a doubt, phishing e-mails are the indispensable elements of this technique.

Besides phishing, methods such as vishing, fake websites or web pages, trojans, and other malicious codes can be used in this technique.

What Are the Risks?

Although social engineering attacks perceived as the first step to gain any unauthorized access to the systems of the organisation or the computers of the victims, they can lead to serious losses.

It is a fact that social engineering attacks can cause serious material or moral damages. Considering the cyber attacks around the world, social engineering attacks led to millions of dollars in losses to many organisations. Most of them are global brands and national companies.

Once cyber attackers gain access to corporate systems through social engineering attacks. They can cause many harms such as data breaches, copying data, demanding ransom, or publishing personal data on the internet.

Below, you can find some of the possible damages of social engineering attacks:

Gaining Unauthorized Access – Cyber attackers can gain unauthorized access to systems by obtaining the necessary information to gain access.

Loss of Reputation and Trust – When cyber attackers gain access to the systems, they can damage the reputation of the organisation or brand.

Data Theft – Once cyber attackers obtain the passwords or access information, they can disturb the system operations, demand ransom, or sell the stolen data over the internet.

Service Shutdown – Accessed systems often shut down by cyber attackers. Organisations may experience great financial losses as a result of such acts.

Legal Sanctions – As a result of a breach of corporate customer or personal data, states or national standards may impose various sanctions or fines on organisations due to GDPR or similar laws.

Practical Measures for Social Engineering Attacks

Due to the nature of cyber security, your organisation needs integrative security management. As MS Cyber Security, we can provide you guidance and consultancy to improve the cyber security measures within your organisation.

Some of the practical measures against social engineering attacks are very similar to the measures taken against other types of cyber attacks.

Physical Security Measures

Physical security is one of the most important measures in system security, but especially in organisations where critical data processed or used.

Organisations have to secure physical security with both human factor and physical security controls in accessing sensitive data and preserving printed documents.

Compliance with Security Policies

Security policies created by organisations should be clear, understandable, and applicable. Security policies that are not accessible or difficult to implement can often cause difficulties for the employees of the organisation.

Also, we would like to underline that security policies determined by global standards are extremely important for corporate and data safety.

Trainings and Sanctions

Information security awareness training should be provided to measure the level of awareness of the employees of the organisation and to raise awareness against cyber attacks.

In general, all organisations must repeat their information security awareness training to their employees at certain intervals. The most important element in social engineering measures is to start raising the awareness levels of the employees of the organisation.

Firewall and Antivirus

All organisations must use a Firewall and Antivirus both to control the corporate network and to protect the computers of the employees of the organisation.


It is required to make callbacks mandatory in case of sharing sensitive information. It is absolutely essential to adopt the callback method against fraudulent calls when sharing passwords and similar accesses.

Password Policy

Organisations must create an organization-wide password policy. It is important that everyone, including the management, must follow this policy.

Be Skeptical

Everyone must be skeptical in case of suspicious circumstances, unclear or open-ended questions, especially in e-mail and SMS access. Organisation’s security policies need to include verifying the request or the source of the request twice, when necessary.

Central Logging

Besides monitoring and controlling the internal network of the organisation and the computers of the organisation employees and guest access, it is important to keep logging in accordance with the law.

Social Engineering Tests for Organisations

Social engineering tests carried out to measure the awareness of organisation employees about cyber security. The test often carried out under the control and knowledge of the organisation.

Fake emails sent to organisation employees with specially picked phishing methods. According to the obtained data as a result of the test, a general statistic generated about how much awareness the organisation’s employees have about cyber security.

The organisation receiving the service should provide the necessary awareness training to its employees in case the awareness levels of its employees are insufficient.

In social engineering tests, experts use different methods such as Graybox, Blackbox, or Whitebox. The organisation can also present information about organisation or organisation employees to the tester.

If desired, the organisation may not provide any information and request experts to carry out the tests as Blackbox.

In conclusion, every organisation must protect its systems with these and similar security controls. Thus they ensure the confidentiality of personal data. Also, keep in mind that no system is a hundred percent secure. Human factor always plays an important role.

The most important way to minimize the impact of social engineering attacks is only possible by keeping the security policies up-to-date. Moreover, you need to inform the employees appropriately with awareness training.

If you would like to test the awareness levels of your employees or test your current cyber security levels, we can help you. As MS Cyber Security, we can carry out all the relevant tests. We can also provide consultancy and guidance to improve your cyber security.

With our expert and experienced team, we can help you to take active and effective measures for possible social engineering attacks. You can contact our company at any time to get information and receive a free quote.

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