Social Engineering: What You Need to Know and Do Right Now

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Social engineering attacks, such as phishing emails, are currently being used to gain unauthorized access to company networks – potentially your own or that of one of your partners. In this article, we will discuss why this threat is significant and what actions you should take to protect your customers, networks, and business.

Social Engineering: What You Must Know

Hackers and thieves have discovered that the easiest way to gain unauthorized access to a network is not through hacking or malware, but by deceiving an authorized user. This deceptive method is commonly known as “social engineering.”

The most prevalent form of social engineering is the phishing email. These emails appear legitimate and often impersonate a colleague, superior, or even a confirmation of an order or job application. They prompt recipients to download files, click on links, transfer funds, or provide personal and confidential business information on an official-looking webpage.

The consequences of falling victim to a phishing email can be severe. Malware or ransomware may infect the user’s computer, spreading throughout the entire business network. Alternatively, funds may be transferred to thieves instead of intended recipients, or the stolen information may be used for unauthorized access, theft, or fraudulent activities.

Phishing emails can deceive users at home or in the workplace, regardless of their professional level. According to the 2017 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, one in 14 users were tricked into following a link or opening an attachment, with a quarter of those individuals falling victim multiple times. In cases where phishing successfully breached security, malware was often employed to steal data or gain control over systems. In fact, 95% of phishing attacks resulting in security breaches were followed by some form of malicious software installation.

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It’s important to note that phishing is not the only method employed by social engineers and hackers to gain access to networks. The same Verizon study revealed that 81% of hacking-related breaches leveraged stolen or weak passwords. A December 2017 report by DarkReading highlighted the issue of poor password selection, stating that passwords such as “123456,” “Password,” and “qwerty” were among the most commonly used.

Breaches, regardless of how they occur, can be highly disruptive and costly. The 2017 Cost of Data Breach Study sponsored by IBM and conducted by the Ponemon Institute found that the global average cost of each data breach was $3.62 million. Moreover, the average breach involved over 24,000 lost or stolen records, with each record costing an estimated $1.41. The study also estimated that the probability of experiencing a recurring data breach within the next two years stood at 27.7% for each organization analyzed, a 2.1% increase from 2016. Additionally, it took organizations an average of 191 days to identify a data breach and 66 days to contain it.

What You Need to Do Now

If you have the necessary tools and processes in place, it is crucial to enforce strict rules regarding the types of files that are allowed or prohibited from entering or traversing your environment. Similarly, measures should be implemented to ensure user passwords are strong and regularly updated. If such resources are not available, now is the time to establish processes for managing file access and passwords, as well as considering the adoption of useful tools.

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Another worthwhile step is to educate users about phishing and the risks associated with weak passwords. These efforts may involve providing lists and articles on the topic of poor passwords, conducting simulated phishing email campaigns, and encouraging the prompt reporting of any suspected phishing threats.

A study conducted by phishing defense solutions vendor PhishMe, as reported by DarkReading in December 2016, revealed that susceptibility to phishing attacks decreased by nearly 20% after an organization conducted just one failed simulation. The same study found that timely reporting of phishing threats can reduce the time it takes to detect a breach to an average of 1.2 hours, a significant improvement compared to the industry average of 146 days at that time.

Remember that your users can be either the weakest link in your cybersecurity or the first line of effective defense for your IT environment. By engaging and educating your users about cybersecurity, you can significantly enhance your organization’s overall security posture. Furthermore, user education initiatives present opportunities for collaboration between IT and marketing teams, fostering efforts to promote cybersecurity awareness. After all, anything is possible…


In summary, social engineering refers to the deceptive practice of misleading authorized users to gain unauthorized access to a network. Phishing emails are the most common form of social engineering, where users are prompted to take actions that lead to malware infection, data theft, or financial loss. It is crucial to educate users about the dangers of phishing and the importance of strong passwords to enhance cybersecurity. By implementing robust security measures and fostering user awareness, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of data breaches and cyber-attacks.

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