Unveiling the threat of social engineering: A menace to cybersecurity – Express Computer

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By Rachin S Katti, Head of Cybersecurity, Cyient

In an era marked by rapid technological advancement, the specter of cybersecurity breaches looms large over individuals and organisations alike. From data breaches to malicious hacking attempts, the ramifications of cyber threats are extensive, encompassing financial losses and reputational damage. As society's reliance on technology deepens, safeguarding digital assets becomes an imperative. Among the myriad forms of cyber threats, social engineering emerges as a particularly insidious menace, exploiting human vulnerabilities to
infiltrate systems and networks. Here we look into the intricacies of social engineering, delineating its various forms and offering insights into preventive measures.

Understanding social engineering
In 2019, criminals used AI voice emulation to steal €220,000 from a UK energy firm in a whaling attack – targeting a high-level executive. They impersonated the German CEO of the parent company, persuading the UK CEO to send money urgently to a Hungarian supplier, which was their account. After the transfer, the hackers claimed to reimburse the UK CEO but then requested a second payment.

Sensing something amiss, the UK CEO halted the transaction. The funds were moved to Mexico and dispersed. Investigation revealed the use of AI voice mimicry for fraud. No suspects have been identified, and the investigation has been closed. At its core, social engineering denotes a tactic employed by cybercriminals to manipulate individuals into divulging sensitive information or executing actions detrimental to their digital well-being. Unlike traditional cyber attacks that exploit technical vulnerabilities, social engineering capitalizes on psychological manipulation, preying on human susceptibilities. In contemporary times, social engineering has ascended as a preferred modus operandi for cyber assailants, posing a formidable challenge to cybersecurity protocols.

Social engineering encompasses a spectrum of stratagems aimed at extracting confidential information through psychological manipulation. While its roots trace back through history, the proliferation of digital platforms has rendered it an increasingly potent threat.

The following delineates four primary manifestations of social engineering:
● Phishing: Among the most prevalent variants, phishing entails deceiving individuals into divulging sensitive information through fraudulent emails or messages masquerading as legitimate communications from reputable entities.
● Baiting: Leveraging enticing offers or incentives, baiting lures unsuspecting individuals into sharing confidential details under the guise of purported rewards or benefits.
● Pretexting: This method involves fabricating false narratives to elicit sensitive information or access to systems, often through impersonation tactics.
● Quid Pro Quo: By offering inducements in exchange for confidential information, quid pro quo entices individuals into compromising their digital security in pursuit of perceived advantages.

Mitigating the risk of social engineering:
While social engineering attacks pose a formidable challenge due to their reliance on human
fallibility, proactive measures can mitigate their impact.

Key strategies include:
● Education: Heightened awareness through regular training empowers individuals to identify and thwart social engineering attempts.
● Vigilance: Exercising caution with suspicious links and verifying the authenticity of requests for sensitive information mitigates the risk of falling prey to social engineering ploys.
● Technological safeguards: Installing robust antivirus and antispam software fortifies systems against potential social engineering incursions.

In an era where cybersecurity assumes paramount importance, the threat posed by social engineering demands vigilant scrutiny. As digital systems become increasingly integral to our daily lives, safeguarding against social engineering attacks emerges as an imperative. By bolstering awareness, vigilance, and technological defenses, individuals and organizations can navigate the treacherous landscape of cybersecurity with greater resilience. As the digital realm evolves, the proactive pursuit of cybersecurity measures remains pivotal in safeguarding our collective digital future.

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