Human targets are often the easiest way for hackers to gain unauthorized access to data. Here are a few ways you can help stop these social engineering attacks before they can even get started.
In the context of data security, social engineering involves psychological manipulation hackers use to get people to give up confidential information or data that can be used to gain unauthorized access to user accounts or systems. These sorts of tactics are often used as part of an information gathering process that hackers use to gain access to otherwise secure systems. Your system can be protected by state-of-the-art encryption protocols, strong firewalls, and other defenses, and yet still be vulnerable to social engineering.
Password complexity requirements and rules that lock an account after a certain number of failed attempts help prevent brute force attacks. But as technology gets better at preventing hackers from forcing their way in, they turn to more subtle techniques for getting past the login screen and other security measures. These measures involve exploiting human psychology rather than technological weaknesses.
High-profile hacks and data breaches get a lot of attention in the media, and the imagined story around it involves clever hackers breaking their way through the security defenses of the system to gain access to the data. However, it is much more likely that the system is compromised through a series of social engineering attacks that uncover the bits of data needed to access the system.
While it may be impossible to guess a complex password or decrypt software without an encryption key, it is not impossible to trick someone into giving up access to either. Machines are much better than humans at keeping secrets. This is because they only grant access to those who present the correct authentication factors. Humans on the other hand are more susceptible to someone being nice and saying please or more aggressive social pressures, such as a boss (or someone posing as the boss) demanding a new password or access to the current encryption keys over the phone, or someone wearing a uniform and acting with authority. These social engineering attacks can be perpetrated over the phone, in person at the office, or from information gleaned from social networks.
Social engineering attacks are hard to defend against, but just like other kinds of data security, software can go a long way in strengthening the defenses. One very strong example of how software can prevent social engineering attacks is in the password reset process. Organizations that still do manual password resets are much more susceptible to social engineering attacks, since hackers may be able to trick or persuade Help Desk employees into giving out new passwords. Even with verification steps such as giving out the last four digits of his Social Security number, or confirming a birthday or address do not help protect against social engineering, since the hacker would first extract that verification information from the target account’s owner.
Instead of leaving Help Desk employees and account owners vulnerable to these sorts of social engineering attacks, implementing a self-serve password reset program can help move account access directly under the control of the account owner. Other measures such as multifactor authentication can also help prevent the system from becoming compromised through a social engineering attack. Multifactor authentication requires the user to not only present a password or other knowable information, but also it requires them to present something they have, like an authentication token or an authentication code received via SMS.
In addition to these technological measures, employees should also be trained about the importance of keeping their passwords, key cards, and other authentication data private, not giving it out to anyone or giving anyone access to it.
If your organization is looking for ways to strengthen its security systems against the threats of social engineering or other account hacking attacks, then sign up for a free trial of ReACT, ASPG’s self-serve password reset and management software.