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Why is Social Engineering Dangerous

Cybercrime nowadays pays big dividends, which is why so many hackers get into it.  If done well, cyber crimes like social engineering are the road to a fairly good payday for hackers.  So why is social engineering dangerous?  Because it captures your personal information and uses it against you.

And it’s not just for individuals either, organizations are also targets.  Businesses and organizations have “big money” potential for cyber criminals, so they are more than willing to put in the extra effort to go after these entities.

Before going any further, let’s talk formalities for a minute, and define social engineering.  It is a type of attack where individuals are tricked into revealing their personal information or performing actions that compromise their security.  Most of this takes place via spam emails that look legit.

This is called Phishing, as cyber criminals send out spam emails to “phish” for information.

As social engineering attacks become more widespread and sophisticated, it is important to be aware of the many dangers involved.  Let’s learn more about social engineering and some steps you can take to protect yourself.

Examples of Social Engineering Attacks

why is social engineering dangerous

Phishing

The most predominant form of social engineering is Phishing.  I mentioned earlier that Phishing is the process of sending spam emails to gain information.  But let’s talk more about what this all means.

Phishing is a fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details.  This is done by the hacker disguising themselves as a trustworthy entity in electronic communication (i.e. email).  Here are some examples of what I mean:

“Phishers” love to use email messages to scam you, and this is what we ask users to be vigilant with all the time.  But they can also use instant messaging and social media platforms to try and trick people into revealing their personal information.

The reason cybercriminals use phishing attacks is that they are relatively easy to carry out and very effective in obtaining sensitive information.  Organizations can protect themselves against phishing attacks by educating their employees about the dangers of phishing and implementing security measures such as firewalls and anti-virus software. 

You can learn more about how organizations can protect themselves against Phishing, by reading my recent article on the topic.

Malware

Most people have heard of malware, and have a good idea of what it is.  Put simply, malware is bad for you and your computer.  But to give a formal definition for the fancy types, malware is a type of software that can be used to harm or disable computers and computer networks.

Malware includes viruses, ransomware, spyware, and Trojans.  These programs can be installed on computers through phishing attacks (which we just talked about), malicious websites, or clicking on an email link. Once installed, the malware can steal information, damage files, or even take control of the computer. Malware can also be used to launch cyber attacks against other organizations.

The thing with most malware that makes it so dangerous is that it’s difficult to detect.  Using security software like Malwarebytes can definitely help with that.

The programs can often hide deep inside a computer’s operating system or network infrastructure. This makes them hard to find and remove. 

One of the best ways to protect your computer from malware is to be aware of the different methods hackers use to distribute their malicious software.  With social engineering, it can be a bit difficult to detect.

You see hackers are finding more sophisticated ways to garner your information and deceive you so they can install malware on your computer.

To give an example…

Say a hacker might send an email that appears to be from a friend or colleague, asking you to open an attachment or visit a website.  Should you fall for this tactic/scam and install the malware, the hacker can gain access to your computer and steal your data.

Another common method of distributing malware is through infected websites. If you visit an infected website, the malware can automatically download to your computer without you even realizing it.

Baiting

In the simplest of terms, baiting is the act of providing false information or promises to lure victims to exploit.  Pretty bad stuff I know.

False information could be in the form of a false social security number or credit card number.  It can also be in the form of a Trojan horse program that downloads onto a victim’s computer after they have opened an email attachment or clicked on a link sent by a scammer.

The danger with baiting is that it’s often difficult to tell if you’re being baited or not.

Hackers are getting better and better at disguising their attacks as legitimate communications.  Once they have your personal information, they can use it to steal your identity, your money, or even launch cyber attacks against other organizations.  All under your information.

Phishing, Malware, and Baiting aren’t the only way social engineering can happen.  They just happen to be the most common attacks of social engineering.

Here’s a fun but scary video of how sophisticated scammers are getting with social engineering:

The Risks Organizations Face with Social Engineering

There are many risks organizations face when it comes to social engineering attacks.  One of the main dangers is that social engineering attacks can be very successful in compromising an organization’s security.

In fact, social engineering attacks are the most common methods used by cybercriminals to gain access to an organization’s networks along with their sensitive data.

An organization’s reputation could also be at risk, due to social engineering attacks.  Imagine if a hacker was able to compromise an organization’s internal network and gain access to confidential information that’s not meant for the public to see.

This could be used as a source of blackmail by the hacker to release that information without permission, which can then lead to negative publicity and loss of trust from customers and clients.

Lastly, social engineering attacks can be costly for organizations.

This one should be the most obvious, as the main reason cybercriminals commit cyber crimes is because of the monetary gains.  Organizations, businesses, and entities usually have more money than individuals.  So cybercriminals have more of an incentive to target organizations.

This is why cybercriminals put so much effort into sending out phishing emails because they work.  

Even if an organization has security measures in place to protect against social engineering attacks, those measures may not be effective if employees are not properly trained on how to identify and avoid them.

Effects of Social Engineering on Society

why is social engineering dangerous

The dangers of social engineering are twofold. First, it can be used to steal information or commit fraud. Second, it can be used to create chaos or mayhem in our lives.  This is both on a personal and professional level.

“Social engineers” can manipulate people into doing things they would not ordinarily do, such as revealing passwords, clicking on malicious links, or participating in hate campaigns.

Social engineering is a growing threat to society and poses a serious risk to businesses and individuals.  As I mentioned before, hackers are becoming more sophisticated in their attacks, so we often don’t have a clue we’re being hacked, when it’s happening.

It is important to be aware of the dangers of social engineering and take steps to protect yourself, by being informed.  Here are a few tips to always keep in mind and protect yourself:

  • Always be cautious when opening unknown emails, clicking links, or responding to messages from unknown senders.
  • Don’t share your personal information or passwords with anyone, unless you’re certain that the request is legitimate.  The request could be via email, phone, or in person.
  • Use strong passwords for your accounts, and change them often.  
  • If you can get two-level authentication on your accounts to log in, use them wherever they’re available
  • On your social media accounts, avoid stating where your location is on your profile.  Cybercriminals can use this information to learn more about you and your personal information.

These are the reasons social engineering is dangerous because it can be used to exploit people’s trust and gullibility.  Unfortunately, that’s the world we are living in today, and we need to be proactively vigilant in protecting ourselves.

The effects of social engineering on society are not limited to financial loss only.  They can also cause emotional distress and humiliation for their victims, which can be more catastrophic than the financial loss in some cases.

Final Thoughts

So as we can see, social engineering is a dangerous tool that can do harm to us in more ways than one.    

It can be used to gain access to confidential information or to install malware on a computer.  It can also be used to exploit people’s trust and confidence.  In order to protect yourself from social engineering attacks, you should be aware of the techniques that attackers use, and you should always be skeptical of unsolicited requests for information or help.

Social engineering attacks aren’t just limited to online.  Cybercriminals are finding more sophisticated ways to get information via phone and even in person.  So be proactive by being aware.  Keep your computer security software up-to-date, and make sure that you have strong passwords and user accounts.

 


Tags

baiting, cyber security, malware, phishing, ransomware, social engineering


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