Social engineering is more sophisticated than ever. The manipulation strategies play on the human element – rather than the technological one – and exploit people for unauthorized access to information or systems. 

And it’s like we’re just giving it away. Massive data brokers have millions of individuals’ data waiting for the taking. While it’s possible to remove data from data brokers, a lot of people don’t realise how exposed they are – at least, not until it’s too late. And that’s just one social engineering attack issue.

A study by Verizon found that 74% of breaches were related to the human element – put us as the weakest link in the chain. According to the IMB, the average cost of a data breach due to phishing – of the social engineering attack methods we’ll discuss – is $4.91 million

Below, we’ll help you understand social engineering attacks in more detail and how to prevent manipulation.

What Are Social Engineering Attacks?

Social engineering attacks are deceptive strategies cybercriminals use to manipulate individuals into giving confidential information or performing actions that compromise security. And believe us, they’re becoming so sophisticated that they’re almost impossible to spot. 

Unlike traditional hacking (old-school, now), which typically exploits technical vulnerabilities that may be found in browsers and apps, social engineering targets the human element of security systems. They target our emotions – and we’re emotional beings. Some more than others. 

These attacks have various forms, from phishing emails and pretexting to baiting and tailgating (more on those later). The ultimate goal is to trick individuals into breaking standard security procedures, revealing sensitive information, or granting access to restricted areas or systems. And they’ll do it all without you realizing until it’s too late.

Common Social Engineering Tactics

Understanding the common tactics is essential. Social engineers use a variety of tactics, each tailored to exploit different aspects of human nature:

  • Phishing: Perhaps the most ubiquitous form is phishing scams. They involve sending fraudulent communications that appear to come from a reputable source, usually via email, to steal sensitive data. They can also infect a system with malware.
  • Pretexting: The attacker invents scenarios to engage a potential victim. They build a false sense of trust to gain access to sensitive information. It might involve impersonating co-workers, police, bank officials, or other people with rightful access to the information. They’re the most common but least sophisticated.
  • Baiting: Similar to phishing, baiting involves offering something enticing to the victim in exchange for login information or private data. It could be something like free music or movie downloads that lead to malicious software installation. 
  • Tailgating: An attacker seeking physical access to restricted areas might follow an authorized person into a building and then perform a data breach. It’s not as common but always featured on the list of social engineering attacks.

The Role of Data Broker Sites in Social Engineering

Data broker sites compile extensive personal information. They create a literal goldmine for social engineers. This data can be used to tailor attacks, making them more credible and difficult to detect. It’s probably one of the reasons why attacks are now so prevalent. 

Social engineers can use this information to build a persona that gains the victim’s trust, making deceptive requests seem legitimate and well-informed. 

People must be vigilant about the information they share online and be aware of its existence.

Strategies to Mitigate Social Engineering Risks

Defending against social engineering attacks needs a proactive approach. Education on recognizing the signs of a social engineering attack is essential – we’ve listed some of the ways above. Always verify the identity of anyone requesting sensitive information, be skeptical of unusual contact, and be aware that social engineers often exploit time-sensitive scenarios to pressure their targets.

Social engineering is a significant threat. Once they have your data, they can do pretty much anything. But, if you understand the tactics and the way to prevent manipulation, you can enhance your data safety.