AICyber Security

How to prevent social engineering from hurting your business_

29th Apr 2024 | 9 min read

How to prevent social engineering from hurting your business_

Cyber attacks are a common burden for businesses. As the world becomes increasingly digital, more bad actors seek ways to target companies. Government research found that, in 2024, UK businesses faced 7.78 million attacks.

And around 98% of cyber-attacks involve social engineering and phishing in some way, making it a substantial risk.

The biggest issue with social engineering is that it only takes one employee to fall victim to it to put your business in danger. There can also be significant repercussions, including reputational damage and financial implications.

So, it’s crucial to stop any social engineering attempts before they get the chance to take hold.

Let’s explore how to prevent social engineering and why it’s become so prevalent in today’s world.

What is social engineering?

Social engineering is a technique used to manipulate people into giving away sensitive information or performing actions that benefit the attacker. Often, it’s used to encourage employees to unwillingly divulge information that makes into easier to hack into an organisation’s systems.

Commonly, social engineers will exploit human vulnerabilities to gain access to what they want. They might create a sense of urgency or importance, play on fear or curiosity or pretend to be someone trusted.

They’ll also typically impersonate people trusted to your business. While we are all used to receiving emails that are clearly fake, social engineers can be highly sophisticated in this. They can use social media and other sources to gain private information on people, making them easier to impersonate. As a result, people believe they’re talking to a genuine person.

Social engineering covers a range of common tactics, including:

  • Phishing: This is term you’re likely familiar with. It involves sending emails or text messages that appear to be from a legitimate source, like your bank or a tech company. The message will often try to trick you into clicking on a malicious link or downloading an attachment that infects your device with malware.
  • Baiting: Baiting tricks victims into knowingly or unwittingly giving up information or downloading malicious code in exchange for something valuable. For example, access to large sums of money
  • Pretexting: In this scenario, the attacker will create a fake backstory or scenario to gain your trust. For instance, they might call you claiming to be from IT support and needing your password to fix a problem with your computer.
  • Quid pro quo: This tactic involves offering something in exchange for your information. For example, you might be lured into giving up your personal details in order to receive a free gift or discount.

An example of social engineering

It’s easier to understand social engineering through examples that can happen in real life. Let’s look at one such scenario.

An employee at a small marketing firm receives a phone call, with the caller claiming to be from a well-known tech support company. The attacker has spoofed the number so it appears legitimate.

They tell the employee that their company’s IT network has critical security vulnerabilities. They explain it’s an urgent situation, as the vulnerabilities expose sensitive client data and could lead to a data breach.

The person even uses official-sounding language, which the employee doesn’t understand but sounds genuine. So, they agree to grant remote access to their computer.

Once access is granted, the attacker can install malware to steal company data, passwords or even launch further attacks within the network, leaving the business at significant risk.

The role of AI in social engineering

While social engineering has been on the horizon for some time, it’s taken on a new precedence lately. This is because criminals are now using AI to increase the sophistication of their attempts.

Natural Language Processing (NLP) models can analyse vast amounts of data about individuals. This includes social media posts, emails and online behaviour. Attackers can then leverage this to craft highly personalised messages that resonate with the target’s interests, fears and communication style, making scam messages seem genuine.

On top of this, AI can generate realistic-looking videos and audio recordings using deep learning techniques. This creates opportunities for deepfakes, where attackers can impersonate real people in videos or use believable AI-generated voices.

AI also increases the scale of social engineering attacks. It automates tasks like sending mass phishing emails or making robocalls. This allows attackers to reach a wider audience with minimal effort.

What’s more, AI can be used to adapt the content of emails or messages to bypass spam filters. This increases the chances of reaching a target’s inbox and potentially tricking them into clicking on malicious links.

The repercussions of social engineering attacks

Social engineering has far-reaching consequences.

At a business level, social engineering attacks can cause significant financial losses. If customer data is breached, it can lead to fines, legal fees and reputational damage.

Additionally, stolen information can be used for fraudulent transactions or to disrupt operations. That’s not to mention the reputational implications and damage to customer trust.

A successful attack can also bring a business’s operations to a halt. For instance, attackers might use ransomware to encrypt critical data, preventing employees from accessing essential files. This causes productivity to decline rapidly.

Individuals may also be impacted, including your employees and customers. Social engineering can lead to identity theft, where attackers use stolen personal information to make fraudulent purchases or access bank accounts. This can cause significant financial and emotional hardship for victims.

In short, if you want to protect your customers and staff, minimise financial loss and maintain productivity, you must do everything in your power to prevent social engineering.

How to prevent social engineering in your business

We’ve listed our top tips for preventing social engineering attacks impacting your business.

1. Improve employee awareness of social engineering

Your employees are most likely to be targeted by social engineers, so it’s crucial to make them aware of the risks.

Start by conducting regular security awareness training. This can educate employees on social engineering tactics, common scams and best practices for protecting themselves and company data.

Test their knowledge by simulating phishing attacks through emails and phone calls. This can help employees identify suspicious messages and hone their response skills.

You should also encourage strong password policies and implement multi-factor authentication for all company accounts to add an extra layer of security.

Finally, foster a culture of security within the company where employees are encouraged to report suspicious activity and ask questions. This will allow social engineering attempts to be caught earlier and prevent people falling victim to them.

2. Enhance your cyber security practices

To eliminate cyber attacks of any kind, you need strong IT security measures.

There are plenty of tools that form a robust cyber security practice. However, these are the ones most likely to prevent social engineering attacks.

  • Email filtering: Email filtering systems can catch phishing attempts before they reach employees’ inboxes.
  • Data encryption: Encrypt sensitive data both at rest and in transit to minimise the impact of a potential breach.
  • Patch management: Maintain a strict patch management system to ensure all software and systems are updated with the latest security fixes.
  • Endpoint security software: Install endpoint security software on all devices to detect and prevent malware that might be installed through social engineering tactics.

You’ll also want to regularly conduct penetration testing to identify vulnerabilities in your IT systems and protocols. This will help you stay on top of issues and maintain a good level of security.

3. Use AI-powered tools

While AI can exacerbate the scale of social engineering, it’s also well-equipped to tackle it.

AI algorithms can analyse vast amounts of data – including emails, messages and network traffic – to identify red flags associated with social engineering attempts. This can help detect phishing scams, suspicious attachments, and other malicious activities before they reach employees.

AI can also be used to simulate social engineering tactics in a safe environment. This allows companies to test their employees’ awareness and preparedness for real-world attacks.

Finally, AI can analyse the content of emails and messages for manipulative language and urgency tactics commonly used in social engineering attempts. It will then flag suspicious messages and warn recipients.

Due to these advanced capabilities, consider looking into AI tools to fight fire with fire and enhance your security. Copilot for Security is a great example.

4. Design effective policies and procedures

It’s a good idea to set internal policies and processes that clarify how employees should act in the event of a social engineering attack.

Start by establishing clear policies for handling phone calls, emails and other communication from unknown senders. These should include questions to ask to determine how legitimate someone is, and a system for flagging any uncertainties.

It’s also advisable to implement data access controls. These restrict access to sensitive information to only authorised personnel, reducing the chances of them being shared. Anyone who does have access should be well-informed on security practices.

Another worthwhile process is frequent monitoring of your social media platforms. You will be looking for mentions of the company that suggest potential phishing attempts or brand impersonation. In some cases, these will target your customers and staff so remind them to be vigilant.

Finally, prepare a comprehensive incident response plan. This will outline how to deal with security breaches and social engineering attacks effectively and should include information such as how you’ll communicate issues and control damage.

Getting external support to prevent social engineering

It is crucial for any business to maximise security to prevent social engineers taking hold. If you don’t address vulnerabilities, you face financial, reputational and operational damages.

However, social engineering can be concerning, especially with criminals rapidly developing new ways to target companies. It can be hard to manage the risk internally, with a broad depth of knowledge required alongside sufficient tools and resource.

Working with an external IT consultant, with expertise in social engineering practices, can be a lifeline. They provide cost-effective guidance, monitoring and training, while ensuring you have optimal protection in place.

Infinity Group offer cyber security consultancy, covering all areas of IT risk, including social engineering. Whether remotely or onsite, our expert team can seamlessly mitigate cyber security risks using specialist technologies in line with best practise, keeping you protected.

Get in touch today to speak to a member of our team and protect your business against social engineering now.

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