31 Jan How to avoid social engineering and phishing attacks
From social engineering, phishing, vishing and even smishing, cybercriminals will try to come up with clever ways of gaining access to your personal and financial information. Here are tips on how to avoid these cyberattacks and what to do if you’ve become a victim of one.
In a social engineering attack, an attacker uses human interaction (social skills) to obtain or compromise information about an organization or its computer systems. An attacker may seem unassuming and respectable, possibly claiming to be a new employee, repair person, or researcher and even offering credentials to support that identity. However, by asking questions, he or she may be able to piece together enough information to infiltrate an organization’s network. If an attacker is not able to gather enough information from one source, he or she may contact another source within the same organization and rely on the information from the first source to add to his or her credibility.
Phishing is a form of social engineering that uses email or malicious websites to solicit personal information by posing as a trustworthy organization. For example, an attacker may send emails seemingly from a reputable credit card company or financial institution that requests account information, often suggesting that there is a problem. When users respond with the requested information, attackers can use it to gain access to the accounts.
Phishing attacks may also appear to come from other organizations like charities. Attackers often take advantage of current events and certain times of the year including natural disasters, epidemics/health scares, economic concerns, political elections and holidays.
Vishing is the social engineering approach that leverages voice communication. This technique can be combined with other forms of social engineering that entice a victim to call a certain number and divulge sensitive information. Advanced vishing attacks can take place completely over voice communications by exploiting Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) solutions and broadcasting services. VoIP easily allows caller identity (ID) to be spoofed, which can take advantage of the public’s misplaced trust in the security of phone services, especially landline services. Landline communication cannot be intercepted without physical access to the line; however, this trait is not beneficial when communicating directly with a malicious actor.
Smishing is a form of social engineering that exploits SMS, or text, messages. Text messages can contain links to such things as webpages, email addresses or phone numbers that when clicked may automatically open a browser window or email message or dial a number. This integration of email, voice, text message, and web browser functionality increases the likelihood that users will fall victim to engineered malicious activity.
COMMON INDICATORS OF PHISHING ATTEMPTS
- Suspicious sender’s address. The sender’s address may imitate a legitimate business. Cybercriminals often use an email address that closely resembles one from a reputable company by altering or omitting a few characters.
- Generic greeting and signature. Generic greetings – such as “Dear Valued Customer” or “Sir/Ma’am” – and a lack of contact information in the signature block are strong indicators of a phishing email. A trusted organization will normally address you by name and provide their contact information.
- Spoofed hyperlinks and websites. If you hover your cursor over any links in the body of the email, and the links do not match the text that appears when hovering over them, the link may be spoofed. Malicious websites may look identical to a legitimate site, but the URL may use a variation in spelling or a different domain (e.g., .com vs. .net). Additionally, cybercriminals may use a URL shortening service to hide the true destination of the link.
- Spelling and layout. Poor grammar and sentence structure, misspellings and inconsistent formatting are other indicators of a possible phishing attempt. Reputable institutions have dedicated personnel that produce, verify and proofread customer correspondence.
- Suspicious attachments. An unsolicited email requesting a user download and open an attachment is a common delivery mechanism for malware. A cybercriminal may use a false sense of urgency or importance to help persuade a user to download or open an attachment without examining it first.
AVOID BEING A VICTIM
To avoid becoming a victim, it is important to be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls, visits or email messages from individuals asking about employees or other internal information. If an unknown individual claims to be from a legitimate organization, try to verify his or her identity directly with the company. In addition, don’t provide personal information or information about your organization, including its structure or networks, unless you’re certain of their authority to have the information.
Other ways to avoid being a victim include not revealing personal or financial information, responding to email solicitations for personal information, clicking on suspicious links or attachments, as well as verifying the sender and their address information.
ARE YOU A VICTIM OF A CYBERCRIME?
If you believe you may have fallen victim of a cybercrime, immediately change your passwords and notify the appropriate individuals (i.e. network administrators, financial institution(s) and police department). Continue to watch for other signs of identity theft and consider filing a report with the Federal Trade Commission.