What is social engineering in cybersecurity?

In 2020, Twitter went through a massive hack. Prominent accounts of Elon Musk, Joe Biden, Bill Gates, and others were compromised. The hacker used social engineering to target some Twitter employees with phone spear phishing attacks.

In a similar move nearly two years later, an engineer of Axie Infinity, the most valued blockchain game, received a fake high-paying job offer from LinkedIn. The consequence? A hacker group gained access to the game’s blockchain network and stole $625 million worth of crypto from it.

Both of these examples show how even the brightest minds can walk easily into social engineering traps. But what is it? And how does it work?

Keep reading to learn more about this security risk and the steps you can take to protect yourself.

What Is Social Engineering?

A victim handing over their credit card information to a social engineering attacker
Social engineering can fool you into giving away sensitive information

Unlike other cybersecurity attacking methods, social engineering places emphasis on psychology.

Attackers go to great lengths to study and exploit human nature. Their purpose is to manipulate the victims and trick them into making security mistakes that they normally wouldn’t.

In a simple incident, a victim might willingly give away only their personal passwords. But social engineering also has widespread use in big hacking campaigns. In these attacks, hackers could get valuable information that can be used to break into the computer system of a huge corporation.

Why Is Social Engineering So Dangerous?

More often than not, humans are the weakest link in a security system. You can update an application to patch the vulnerabilities in an older version. No such solution exists for human behaviors, especially when emotions come into play.

In social engineering, attackers try to gain our trust with psychological manipulation. This process requires great social skills in human interaction and can even take years to succeed.

First, they research the targets and gather information about them, such as through social media profiles. Traditional hacking methods can be useful in this preparation step.

Once confident of success, the attackers approach the victim. They typically pretend to be a trustworthy contact. These can be service providers or government entities. Friends and colleagues are also trusted individuals hackers usually try to pose as.

Several credit cards and a lock on top of a keyboard
Credit card numbers are a popular target of social engineering

When the victim doesn’t recognize they are talking to a fake identity, the hacker goes ahead and asks for sensitive information from them. Most people have their guard down when a trusted person makes such a request.

Typical targets of a social engineering attack include account logins, contact information, payment methods, and any confidential information that can be used for launching further hacking.

The victim can also be encouraged to download a file or visit a website infected with malware. The attacker can entirely take over their device. Or, from this entry point, they can slip into the wider computer system that the victim is connected to. When the victim has fallen into the trap, the possibilities are endless.

How To Prevent Social Engineering Attacks

Since social engineering takes advantage of our natural feelings, the first line of defense should be ourselves. Getting a proper understanding of how these complex fraud schemes work is a good first step. Additionally, follow the tips below to make yourself less vulnerable to them.

Watch Out For Suspicious Offers And Requests

We all feel the urge to help our friends and coworkers who are in an emergency. Malicious actors understand this natural inclination and never pass the opportunities to exploit it.

A malicious actor behind an email
Be cautious about links in emails

When you receive a sudden request telling you to send login accounts or click a link, slow down and reassess the situation. Are you sure it is your friend sending this message? Is your colleague acting strange? Can you verify their identity?

Make a video call to your friend for a checkup. Refer your coworker to the IT departments if they need technical assistance. Or meet them in person when they really need your help.

Avoid opening attachments from suspicious emails. Remain vigilant when a service provider asks you to reset passwords or log in to receive a reward. Don’t be too excited when you receive a job offer too good to be true. Cross-check the address and make sure the email comes from where it claims to be.

Update Your Software And Install Anti-Malware Programs

Hackers often use technical tools in conjunction with psychological manipulations. In fact, social engineering is usually just the first step of a bigger con.

Your careless action may lead to your organization being infected with spyware, trojan, ransomware, or keyloggers. All these malware programs can wreak havoc on the system and steal sensitive data.

Updating your system’s applications to their latest versions can fix known bugs that malware may target. Anti-malware software can also provide another layer of protection. It may give a warning and stop you from downloading a suspicious file.

Protect Yourself Against Social Engineering With Locker

Password managers like Locker are built to protect sensitive credentials – the most common target of social engineering hacks. In addition to creating strong and unique passwords, other features of Locker can boost your security against this social engineering.

You can enable Autofill to let Locker fill in your login details on your behalf. This automatic function can not just save you a lot of time but also help you recognize fraudulent websites.

The password manager Locker with its Autofill feature on Facebook
Locker’s Autofill feature can help you detect fake websites

Even when your eyes can’t identify a fake website or app, Locker can. The Autofill feature only works when an authentic URL matches an item in your vault. If Locker doesn’t offer to fill in passwords on a site like it used to do, you should know something is up.

Whenever possible, enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) like one-time passwords on all your accounts with Locker. They act like an additional identity verification step. Even when the hacker has managed to grab your credentials, they can’t log into your account without Locker.

Social engineering can happen to the best of us. Staying cautious, educating yourself, and embracing the right tools can minimize this rise. Download Locker to spot these scams and protect your accounts from this form of cyberattack.