top of page

Social Engineering in Business: Personnel as the Vulnerable Link

The concept of social engineering encompasses a broad range of meanings. It primarily involves the use of psychological methods to influence people. This technique is employed to prompt unwitting citizens to take certain actions for the benefit of the manipulator. Sometimes, this "benefit" involves obtaining confidential information or engaging in other types of criminal activities.


Social engineering, as a form of fraud, is used by criminals to gain the trust of potential victims. Manipulation by cybercriminals often relies on influencing natural human emotions: fear, gratitude, and the desire to help. Examples include calls from someone claiming to be a bank employee, fake online store purchases, or requests for donations on behalf of supposed charitable organizations.


More specialized fraudsters may use similar schemes against employees of various companies to gain access to valuable information, important documentation, or passwords, compromise computer systems, security systems, or learn about upcoming contracts, and more. All of these can be prevented, but first, it is essential to understand the process and "mechanics" of influence.


Protecting corporate data, networks, and devices from constantly evolving external and internal threats is akin to shooting at a moving target. Social engineering makes this task nearly impossible, as its methods essentially constitute an invisible "hack" of human consciousness and can penetrate deeply into a company's structure.


H2: Part 1: Social Engineering as a Corporate Attack Method


Criminals circumvent system vulnerabilities by instead targeting enterprise employees, who may inadvertently grant access to offices, corporate systems, or networks. The methods of social engineering applied by criminals are always individually tailored and meticulously planned, unlike the use of standard phishing campaigns. Operations using social engineering methods require significant preparation, but the likelihood of successfully breaching the security system is much higher if such methods are skillfully employed.

The illegal penetration process into a company begins with gathering information about the enterprise, its specialization, and activities, as well as its overall structure and employees. Attacks may be directed at entire departments or at individual employees, even those with limited access to data. Even through such company representatives, higher levels of security can be breached. The main goal of criminals is not a weak spot in the system, but a vulnerable person, whose fear, greed, or curiosity can be skillfully exploited to make them violate their company’s security protocols.

For this purpose, criminals thoroughly analyze online and offline sources, identifying potential victims. With the rapid development of the internet and social networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, it has become easier to obtain the necessary information. For instance, through LinkedIn, one can learn who works in a certain department and for how long, while on Facebook, it's possible to study people's behavior and identify the most trusting individuals. Then it's just a matter of obtaining their contact details.

Afterward, criminals secretly strive to gain the victim's trust or evoke a sense of urgency about some pressing matter and fear, so that the victim does not have time to think the situation through and agrees to the cybercriminals’ proposition. Once this happens, the criminals are figuratively one step inside the company.


The most commonly used methods of social engineering include:


Pretexting – This is a method of psychological manipulation based on a pre-developed scenario. During a phone call or other form of communication, the victim unwittingly transmits confidential information to the criminal or performs actions aimed at achieving the criminal’s goal. Social engineers often pose as employees of banks, support services, and other institutions that people are inclined to trust, and for credibility, they may provide the victim with real data about them, such as their name or bank account number.


"Shoulder surfing" – This method involves a criminal watching the victim as they enter login credentials, for example, in cafes, parks, or waiting areas of airports and train stations, to gain access to their account data.


"Quid pro quo", or "a favor for a favor", – This technique involves a criminal, posing for instance as a tech support employee, offering to help with troubleshooting and in return asking the victim to perform certain actions that lead to the transfer of access means to critical information.


Part 2: Most Common Scenarios of Attacks Using "Social Engineering".


Scenario 1:


Criminals use fake sender addresses to convince people that the email comes from senior management (for example, the CEO), a colleague, or a business partner. The email may contain malicious software activated by clicking on an attachment or link. Sometimes, the emails include requests for the urgent transfer of confidential information. For example, if you receive an email from a director or a colleague asking you to review an attached document, your first reaction might be a desire to download the file. Or, if your regular supplier reports authorization issues and needs your help to access the system, it’s natural to want to assist. Why not, if the supplier really has access and your help is crucial for urgent delivery.


Scenario 2:


Employees may receive calls from criminals posing as "technical support." In such cases, for example, the criminal confidently and sequentially addresses a group of company employees, claiming to retrieve information about a request previously sent to the support service. In this situation, the criminals might bet on someone actually having sent such a request or simply wishing to help out of simple courtesy. Once a sufficiently trusting employee is found, criminals can gain their data for access to the company's security systems or remotely attempt to install malicious software on office PCs.


Scenario 3:


Criminals may also simulate a call supposedly from the IT department, reporting a security policy violation or data breach. They ask their victim to provide personal data, for example, for "password recovery," or possibly to download a certain file or click on a link to check their data for password leaks. All of this can lead to the installation of malicious software and the leakage of valuable information.


Scenario 4:


Cybercriminals may use various USB drives labeled with deceptive labels such as "salary" or "cost estimation." At a time convenient for the criminals, such USB drives are scattered in the most trafficked areas of corporate premises—on parking lots, on the floor in elevators, in the office kitchen, and other common areas. What might seem like a lucky find often becomes a serious threat to the company’s cybersecurity. An employee, driven by curiosity, may plug such a flash drive into their work or home computer, inadvertently opening the door for malicious software cleverly hidden inside. Each such incident endangers not only the personal data of the employee but also the integrity of the corporate information system.


Part 3: Precautionary Measures and Counteraction Methods.


As we can see, social engineering provides cybercriminals with such sophisticated methods that attacks using such techniques are difficult to detect and stop. As mentioned earlier, ordinary intrusion detection systems may be ineffective in such cases. However, there are already practices developed by experts that can seriously reduce the risk of attacks using social engineering methods.


Here are some preventive security tools:


  • Companies should regularly train employees, informing them about common social engineering methods. An effective measure can be to simulate situations by dividing staff into role-playing teams of "hackers" and "defenders." If possible, this process should involve employees from partner companies.

  • It would also be beneficial to implement periodic phishing attack simulations, where the company receives virus-infected mailings to its employees’ emails. It is necessary to install reliable mail and web gateways that filter malicious links.

  • It is important to monitor mail and identify letters coming from external networks not associated with the corporate network.

  • Set up an alert system that can detect domain names mimicking the company’s domain.

  • Segment the corporate network, strengthening access control to its elements and limiting employee permissions according to their job needs. Manage access based on the principle of zero trust.

  • Key systems with important information and accounts of employees working with confidential data must be protected using two-factor or multi-factor authentication.


Overall, companies need to regularly, at least once a year, conduct training, assessments, and adhere to cybersecurity standards, guided by best practices. According to current expert estimates, one of the most effective methods of countering social engineering is penetration testing, or Pentest.


Such testing is a pre-planned targeted attack that allows the identification of vulnerabilities caused by employee behavior and determines the company's vulnerability level. Pentests are conducted not only in the usual IT sphere but also in such critically important sectors as energy, the country's or city's transportation system, and mineral extraction. The results of the testing help understand how well employees adhere to information security principles and how effective the training measures are.


Penetration testing is a form of ethical hacking when experts in social engineering, such as the so-called "white hats," identify vulnerabilities related to the human factor.


The goals of penetration testing include:

Determining the potential information that criminals can steal.

Assessing employees' susceptibility to psychological influence.

Testing the effectiveness of current security policies.

Developing measures to increase staff awareness.


The stages of penetration testing typically include developing a testing plan, choosing an attack vector, attempting penetration, and preparing a report. This helps understand how aware employees are of social engineering risks and such actions contribute to improving information security principles in practice.


There are two effective ways to conduct a Pentest as shared by our experts:

"We can personally search for working email addresses of employees as part of our service. In this process, we analyze how easily criminals might find these addresses. After coordinating project details with the client, we initiate the sending of phishing messages and analyze the results.

Another option is for the client to provide a list of work email addresses, and we proceed directly to phishing," says an ESKA expert.

Each of these approaches has its advantages and disadvantages, and we are ready to proceed with the Pentest considering the client's choice and needs. 


Conclusion.


Social engineering is defined as one of the greatest threats to corporate security since its main goal is to manipulate personnel to gain access to confidential information and systems. This deception strategy actively uses psychological techniques to influence employees, particularly through fear, gratitude, or a desire to help, making them vulnerable to such attacks.


A key aspect of effectively combating social engineering is understanding that criminals often bypass technical defense mechanisms, focusing on the human factor as the weakest link in the company's defense. They use detailed planned strategies and individually adapted methods to maximally effectively influence an employee at the right time.


Countering such attacks requires a comprehensive approach, which includes regular training of personnel on how to recognize manipulation methods by criminals. Cyber-attack simulations, role-playing, and active participation of employees from partner companies in training can significantly strengthen the human aspect of corporate security.


Simultaneously, technological tools must be applied, such as mail and web gateways to block malicious links, monitoring systems to identify suspicious activities, and segmentation of the corporate network, which restricts access according to the "zero trust" principle.


It should also be acknowledged that the best way to prevent the influence of criminals' actions is through penetration testing (Pentest), which allows not only to detect existing vulnerabilities but also to assess the real effectiveness of security measures implemented in the company. This method involves ethical hacking, performed by qualified professionals (so-called "white hats"), and is aimed at increasing the awareness and preparedness of personnel for potential attacks.


Employee awareness of threats, understanding at least the most common methods of social engineering, and active participation in information security enhancement measures create a powerful unbreakable barrier against external and internal threats. Successful implementation of all the aforementioned measures will undoubtedly help in realizing an effective corporate security program for the company against modern threats from cybercrime.



2 views0 comments

留言


bottom of page