Three advanced forms of social engineering attacks

Social Engineering Attack

Social engineering is a tactic that manipulates people into giving away sensitive information or taking actions that benefit the attacker. Regular social engineering attacks tend to be broad strokes, using generic tactics to cast a wide net and trick many people.

Advanced social engineering attacks involve meticulous planning and research to target specific individuals or organizations. They are multi-phased, building trust and exploiting urgency over time. Advanced social engineering might even incorporate technical aspects like malware or deepfakes to make the attack more believable.

Here is a comparison of regular and advanced social engineering attacks

Regular Social Engineering

  • Relies on generic tactics and readily available information.
  • Often involves a single attempt using a basic lure or pressure tactic.
  • Primarily exploits human psychology through manipulation.
  • Targets a broad range of people with untailored tactics.
  • Often, it uses well-known techniques, making them easier to detect.

Advanced Social Engineering

  • Involves deep research on the target, their organization, and potential vulnerabilities.
  • Employs a multi-phased approach, building trust and exploiting urgency over time.
  • May combine social engineering with technical attacks like malware or deepfakes for increased effectiveness.
  • Targets highly specific individuals or organizations with personalized attacks.
  • Continuously evolves tactics to bypass common security awareness measures.

By understanding the hallmarks of these advanced attacks and their methods, you can become more vigilant and protect yourself from falling victim to their elaborate schemes. Let’s explore real-world examples of advanced social engineering to see these tactics in action.

1. Business Email Compromise (BEC) – Trust and Urgency in Action:

Imagine this: You seemingly receive an email from your CEO. The email tone is urgent, and we request that you immediately process a high-priority wire transfer to a new vendor. The email mentions a tight deadline and emphasizes the confidentiality of the transaction.

Here’s the trickery:

  • Deep Research: Attackers might have researched your company structure and obtained the CEO’s name and email format (e.g., initials and [email address removed]).
  • Exploiting Trust: They impersonate the CEO, a figure you inherently trust.
  • Urgency and Pressure: The tight deadline and confidentiality create a sense of urgency, making you less likely to scrutinize the request.

How to Protect Yourself:

  • Always verify the sender’s email address carefully. Look for typos or subtle differences in the domain name.
  • Never process urgent financial transactions solely based on email. Double-check with the sender through a trusted communication channel (phone call you initiated, not a number provided in the email).
  • Companies can implement stricter approval processes for large transactions.

2. Watering Hole Attack – Targeting a Specific Pool

Let’s say you work for a company in the finance industry. Attackers compromise a legitimate financial news website that your company employees frequently visit. When you (or a colleague) visit the compromised website, malware is unknowingly downloaded onto your device.

The Malware’s Role:

Once downloaded, the malware might lurk undetected, waiting for an opportune moment.
It could steal login credentials when you access your company’s financial systems.

How to Stay Safe:

  • Be cautious when clicking links, especially on unfamiliar websites.
  • Organizations should have website filtering solutions to block access to known malicious sites.
  • Employees can be trained to be wary of unexpected downloads or browser pop-ups.

3. Spear Phishing with Deepfakes – A New Level of Deception

Imagine receiving a video call that appears to be from your company’s director. In a realistic deepfake video, the director expresses concern about a critical security breach and asks you to disclose your login credentials to “fix” the issue.

This attack exploits:

  • Deepfakes: These AI-generated videos can mimic a person’s appearance and voice with uncanny accuracy, creating a highly believable scenario.
  • Trust in Authority: Employees are naturally inclined to follow instructions from superiors.

How to be Wary:

  • Be extra cautious of unsolicited video calls, especially those requesting sensitive information.
  • If a superior seems out of character or expresses unusual urgency, verify their request through a trusted channel (in-person or a confirmed phone number).
  • Companies should educate employees about deepfakes and the potential for their misuse.