In their 2022 Cost of Data Breach Report, IBM advised that the average cost of a data breach with social engineering as the initial vector surpassed $4 million. The report also showed that social engineering
data breaches took almost nine months for companies to identify (201 mean time days) and contain (60 mean time days).
What is a social engineering attack?
A social engineering attack is when cybercriminals attempt to hack your employees, rather than your technical network, to try and steal sensitive information. Because social engineering attacks are intended to exploit human weaknesses and psychological motivations, they’re sometimes referred to as “human hacking”.
Social engineering attacks rely on psychological manipulation to deceive employees into divulging information, or performing a certain action, such as downloading malware cloaked as software, or visiting websites they shouldn’t, or even, giving attackers access to your organization’s confidential systems.
While social engineering attacks are conducted through a variety of mediums, they most regularly take place through email communication, which makes the inbox of every employee a potential security threat to the organization.
In the most serious cases, social engineering is often just the first stage of what
becomes a large-scale cyberattack.
Common types of social engineering attacks
Social engineering attacks work because they’re rooted in the science of human motivation. Cybercriminals employ various methods to manipulate the victim’s emotions and instincts to drive them to take action that is not in their own, or the organization’s, best interests.
These are some of the most common tactics employed in social engineering attacks:
- Posing as an authority figure. These attacks are rooted in the psychology that people tend to trust, respect, and sometimes, fear, others in positions of authority. This reduces the chances that the individual will ask questions or think twice about the instructions being given to them. Some emails that employ this tactic are sent to be perceived as coming from a government agency, a political or public figure, or sometimes, even a celebrity.
- Inducing fear. Fear can inspire people to act without thinking or fully interrogating the possible risks associated with the actions being carried out. Social engineering attacks resort to a variety of different methods to induce fear in their targets, such as an email reporting a potentially fraudulent bank transaction, or that an image they’ve used violates copyright, or that a virus has infected their device. Fear coupled with a sense of urgency is the perfect psychological weapon for cybercriminals to find their way in.
- Appealing to compassion. Some social engineering attacks involve an appeal to the target’s better nature, inspired by an email that is set up to seem as if it was sent by a friend or a charitable organization in need to assistance. These types of attacks also prey on our innate capacity for curiosity, with requests for participation in a survey (with a chance to win) or a link that delivers the target to a website to claim their prize – which effectively results in the provision of private information or the download of malware.
- Posing as a trusted brand or company. Cybercriminals often spoof companies that are familiar to their targets, as well as those that they may have done business with previously. This faux familiarity is a cybercriminals goldmine since it immediately calms any possible suspicions that things may not be as they seem.
Level up your inbox security
Without exception, every employee in every organization that makes use of email communication is a potential weak spot for cybercriminals. While employee education is a must when it comes to trying to keep cybercrime threats at bay, the rapid evolution in the sophistication of social engineering attacks means multiple layers of protection are necessary.
When it comes to preventing cybercriminals from hijacking your domain and sending fraudulent emails in an attempt to carry out a possible social engineering attack, DMARC is the only mechanism that can give your organization full control over its domain name. A global security standard, DMARC is the industry go-to when it comes to protecting your organization, your employees, and your data, from costly and damaging breaches.
To measure the degree of risk of your domain name, take our quick online safety score test. Knowing your score means you will better understand whether there is a threat to your domain and your organization, empowering you with the knowledge you need to take action in order to proactively prevent social engineering attacks and email impersonations, ultimately keeping your organization, its reputation, and private information, safe.