Social attacks, also known as social engineering attacks, are one of the most common forms of cybersecurity attacks in today’s increasingly digital world. Unfortunately, their disguised nature dupes’ masses of people into falling for them and inadvertently providing criminals with a slew of personal information.
Understanding how social attacks are related to other forms of cybersecurity attacks can help one become more informed on the subject and capable of staying safe on digital media.
Here is comparing social attacks to various other forms of cybersecurity threats.
Exploring Social Attacks
Before comparing social attacks to various other forms of cyberattacks, it’s important to have a clear understanding of social attacks themselves. Essentially, social attacks are cyberattacks in which cybercriminals manipulate their victims into providing them with personal information, such as confidential information and financial information.
Typically, cybercriminals will pose as trustworthy and reputable people. This could be someone who is a friend of a victim or simply a seemingly reputable person from an organization. Using these guises as a cover, cybercriminals make victims feel as if it’s normal that they’re asking for personal information. In this way, many unsuspecting victims willfully hand over personal information to criminals.
Types of Social Attacks
Social attacks can come in a variety of forms. Gaining an understanding of the various types of social attacks can help one safeguard oneself from falling victim to them.
Here are some of the main types of social attacks.
In today’s largely digital world, phishing attacks are one of the most commonly used tools in cybercriminals’ arsenals. Essentially, phishing attacks are done through some sort of message, typically email, and involve cybercriminals coercing or tricking victims into clicking on a nefarious link or divulging personal information.
In most instances, phishing attacks involve cybercriminals posing to be someone from a reputable organization, such as a bank. Pretending to be a trustworthy party, the cybercriminals will usually convince the victim to click on a link that downloads malware onto the victim’s computer. As such, cybercriminals are able to gain control of their victim’s devices, gain access to private information, and use these for nefarious purposes.
While many forms of social attacks are conducted completely through digital means, others involve physical objects in the real world. Baiting is one such attack that relies on duping victims in the real world. Put simply, baiting involves cybercriminals leaving specific devices in places, such as parks, offices, or coffee shops, with the intent that a victim takes it. Typically, these devices will be a type of digital accessory, such as a USB drive.
When victims connect these devices to their personal digital devices, malware is downloaded. These malware give cybercriminals access to the devices and the information stored on them. Ultimately, hackers aim to pique their victim’s curiosity when engaging in these attacks. When successful, cybercriminals can gain a significant amount of private information that they can then use for their personal gain.
Pretexting attacks are a form of cyberattacks that involve cybercriminals creating fake identities. This can be done through media such as social media which can help lend an air of credibility to the persona. With this fraudulent identity, cybercriminals reach out to unsuspecting victims pretending to need their information to confirm their identity. Unfortunately, many victims give cybercriminals their information in these instances, thereby allowing these frauds to steal their information for nefarious use.
How Social Attacks are Different from Other Forms of Cybercrime
While all forms of cybercrime have the potential to be harmful, they can sometimes differ in key areas. Social attacks bear some marked differences from other types of cybercrime in keyways. Some aspects of social attacks that make them unique include:
A focus on psychological manipulation
One distinct hallmark of social attacks is their focus on manipulating victims on a psychological level. Without being able to convince and persuade people to engage in certain behaviors, these schemes wouldn’t work.
A lack of technological significance
While cybercriminals may utilize certain malware in their social attacks, they aren’t focusing on bypassing cybersecurity defenses. Instead, they rely on mental manipulation to pry out key information from victims which makes gaining access to private information easy.
In many cybersecurity attacks, there are no direct interactions between cybercriminals and their victims. When it comes to social attacks, however, the opposite is true. In most social attacks, there typically comes a point where cybercriminals directly interact with their victims, whether that’s on the phone, in an email, or through social media.
Exploiting emotions and trust
When it comes to pulling off successful social attacks, it’s key to exploit the emotions and trust of victims. This is markedly different from other forms of cybercrime which aim to exploit weaknesses in computer systems and their cybersecurity efforts.
Tips for Preventing Social Attacks
While a robust cybersecurity system may help prevent one from becoming the victim of some types of cyberattacks, it usually won’t safeguard one from social engineering attacks. This being the case, it’s important to be aware of some key practices to avoid becoming the victim of a social attack. Some key tips include:
Never provide personal information to strangers
Whether it’s through email or a phone call, it’s important to never provide one’s personal information without discretion. If one is not absolutely sure that they are talking to a reputable individual who is actually from a certain company, refraining from divulging personal information is essential.
Understanding and looking out for phishing attacks
Given the rapidly rising popularity of phishing attacks, it’s important to constantly be on the lookout for this type of nefarious activity. Some telltale signs of phishing schemes to avoid include imitations of reputable email addresses, urgent requests for private information, and generic-sounding messages.
Always verifying the authenticity of those one communicates with
In today’s increasingly digital world, social attackers take advantage of the fact that it’s often annoying or difficult to verify the identity of those one communicates with. To avoid falling prey to social attack schemes, it’s imperative to always go to lengths to verify the identity of those one is communicating with.
Social Attacks Pose a Growing Threat to the Public
Though they don’t involve the same amount of technical sophistication as some other forms of cybercrime, social attacks remain extremely dangerous and harmful. By manipulating victims and taking advantage of their weaknesses, cybercriminals who engage in social attacks are harming masses of people every day.
Thankfully, as these attacks rise in popularity so is awareness about the best digital practices to engage in to stay safe. As time goes on, many are hopeful that the public will become well-versed in cyber safety and make social attacks far more difficult for cybercriminals.
About the Author
Ryan Ayers is a researcher and consultant within multiple industries including information technology, blockchain and business development. Always up for a challenge, Ayers enjoys working with startups as well as Fortune 500 companies. When not at work, Ayers loves reading science fiction novels and watching the LA Clippers.