When cybercriminals use social engineering attacks, they manipulate their targets into providing them access to sensitive information. These attacks are becoming widespread and impacting more organizations each year. But, what type of social engineering targets particular individuals or groups? Read on to learn what it is, how it works, and how you can stop it.
Breaking Down Targeted Social Engineering
Answering the question, “what type of social engineering targets particular individuals or groups” starts with understanding how social engineering works.
In this blog, we’ll cover:
- What social engineering is, and why attackers use it
- What type of social engineering targets particular individuals or groups
- How to defend your organization against social engineering attacks
To defend your organization against the most common social engineering used by hackers, your organization must build a robust security program. Partnering with a trusted security program advisor will help you mitigate these threats.
What is Social Engineering?
Social engineering refers to the art of manipulating individuals to achieve a desired outcome. Using manipulative psychological tactics, cybercriminals leverage social engineering to steal sensitive data from their targets.
So, what type of social engineering targets particular individuals or groups? The answer is phishing. Unsurprisingly, over 250 million phishing attacks were recorded in 2022, impacting organizations in healthcare, retail, technology, and many other industries.
Social engineering attacks, phishing or otherwise, are becoming more rampant because cyberattackers realize they can exploit several vulnerabilities in companies’ security programs. In 2021, cyberattackers stole nearly $7 billion from organizations following successful social engineering attacks.
How Do Social Engineering Attacks Work?
Before diving into the different types of social engineering, let’s explore how these attacks work.
For organizations with baseline cyberdefenses, cybercriminals understand it can be challenging to breach these defenses. However, circumventing a cybersecurity infrastructure is possible if perpetrators can pretext unsuspecting individuals into responding to compromising situations.
Specifically, any situation that excites, confuses, or distresses individuals will likely force them into acting impulsively. And unlike many cyberattacks that are technical, social engineering scams combine an understanding of both technical concepts and those related to human behavior.
Social engineering scams vary in complexity, attack vector, and intended targets. For instance, perpetrators who deploy phishing—the most common form of social engineering—can use emails, text messages, or phone calls to pretext individuals into divulging sensitive data.
Consider this example of phishing, the most common social engineering used by hackers:
A new employee at a mid-sized company of about 200 employees receives an email from the CEO with an urgent request for help. On impulse, this individual is likely to respond to the email out of excitement at the idea of the CEO reaching out.
Cyberattackers leverage such situations to infiltrate their targets.
Fundamentally, all social engineering attacks deploy some form of psychological manipulation to convince an unsuspecting target to compromise data privacy and security. However, each social engineering attack will look different, depending on the vector used.
Three Basic Types of Social Engineering
Like other types of cyberattacks, social engineering attacks are consistently evolving—meaning organizations must keep their cyberdefenses up-to-date with the latest risks.
It helps to understand the basic types of social engineering and how they differ from a technical and psychological standpoint.
Although there are many types of social engineering, let’s explore the three basic ones:
- Phishing – As the most common form of social engineering, phishing tricks unsuspecting targets to provide cybercriminals access to sensitive data environments. Examples of phishing vectors include:
- Baiting – Whereas baiting is similar to phishing, it differs by using physical bait that traps the victim into compromising an organization’s cybersecurity. For example, an individual may pick up a random USB drive and plug it into a workstation to determine its contents without realizing the drive is infected with malware.
- Account compromise – Business email compromise (BEC) attacks are designed to convince their targets of an attacker’s business legitimacy. These attacks are typically used to steal sensitive financial data or convince individuals with access to financial assets to fraudulently transfer them to criminals.
Each type of social engineering attack attempts to build a false sense of trust upon which the perpetrator can victimize individuals. And since these social engineering threats vary from one organization to another, working with a security program advisor will help you develop tailored cyberdefenses.
What Type of Social Engineering Targets Particular Individuals or Groups?
Of the three basic types of social engineering, phishing targets particular individuals and groups. Although cybercriminals can use email, text, or phone calls to deploy these attacks, some types of phishing are more specific than others.
In general, you can identify phishing attacks based on:
- An unusual sense of urgency in emails, phone calls, or texts
- Emails containing atypical grammatical or wording errors
- Suspicious-looking links in the email body
When deploying phishing attacks, cybercriminals typically conduct research beforehand. They may know the names of their victims and some specific personal information, such as previous companies the individuals worked at. The perpetrators will then use this information to make the phishing attempt feel legitimate to the unsuspecting victim.
Spear phishing attacks are the most targeted type of phishing. They are designed to convince individuals with high-level access to sensitive data into divulging their credentials or providing some other form of access to these data environments.
Regardless of phishing type, these social engineering scams are only effective if users at an organization are unaware of how they work.
How to Protect Your Organization Against Social Engineering Attacks
The best cyberdefense against any phishing attack is awareness of how cybercriminals deploy these attacks.
Many organizations implement security awareness training, which involves keeping users at an organization up-to-date with phishing strategies—and which counterdefenses work best, even for more complicated attacks like spear phishing.
However, security awareness training may not always be sufficient.
Your organization should employ other social engineering cyberdefenses such as:
- Penetration testing – Routine security testing via “ethical hacking” helps your organization swiftly identify social engineering threats early in their lifecycle. Assets prone to phishing, such as email and web applications, should be frequently tested to minimize the impact of these threats.
- Identity and access management – If cybercriminals steal users’ credentials, identity and access management (IAM) controls like multi-factor authentication can mitigate them from infiltrating your IT infrastructure.
- Threat detection – Your company can also manage social engineering risks by using automated threat detection tools to identify malware or suspicious links embedded within emails. These tools are designed to detect threat signatures and will help protect you from phishing threats.
Ultimately the best defenses against social engineering threats are those which provide holistic safeguards. Since threats like phishing are not merely technical, your organization will keep its assets safe by investing in a security program.
Whether you’re interested in augmenting your current security team, building a security operations center (SOC), or developing a pipeline for social engineering assessments, obtaining advice unique to your organization will optimize your cyberdefenses.
Partnering with a security program specialist will also help you implement the most appropriate strategies for educating personnel, assessing threats, and responding to incidents.
Build Robust Phishing Defenses
Upon asking, “what type of social engineering targets particular individuals or groups?” and finding out it’s phishing, many organizations are interested in an effective mitigatory solution. It all starts with building a robust security program—guided by an experienced security advisor—to provide 24/7 all-around security across your organization.
To learn more about mitigating phishing, contact RSI Security today!