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Don't Get Hooked... by Social Engineering

Don't Get Hooked... by Social Engineering

In a social engineering attack, an attacker uses human interaction (social skills) to obtain or compromise information about an organization or its computer systems. An attacker may seem unassuming and respectable, possibly claiming to be a new employee, repair person, or researcher and even offering credentials to support that identity. However, by asking questions, he or she may be able to piece together enough information to infiltrate an organization's network. If an attacker is not able to gather enough information from one source, he or she may contact another source within the same organization and rely on the information from the first source to add to his or her credibility.

Phishing is a form of social engineering. Phishing attacks use email or malicious websites to solicit personal information by posing as a trustworthy organization. For example, an attacker may send email seemingly from a reputable credit card company or financial institution that requests account information, often suggesting that there is a problem. When users respond with the requested information, attackers can use it to gain access to the accounts. Phishing attacks may also appear to come from other types of organizations, such as charities. Attackers often take advantage of current events and certain times of the year, such as:

·      natural disasters (e.g., Hurricane Katrina, Indonesian tsunami)
·      epidemics and health scares (e.g., H1N1)
·      economic concerns (e.g., IRS scams)
·      major political elections
·      holidays

Social Engineering Email Red Flags (pdf)

What do you do if you think you are a victim?

  • If you believe you might have revealed sensitive information about your organization, report it to the appropriate people within the organization, including network administrators. They can be alert for any suspicious or unusual activity.
  • If you believe your financial accounts may be compromised, contact your financial institution immediately and close any accounts that may have been compromised. Watch for any unexplainable charges to your account.
  • Watch for other signs of identity theft (see Preventing and Responding to Identity Theft for more information).

For more information on these subjects, visit:

Check if any of your accounts have been compromised in a data breach at Have I Been Pwned? 
(Pwn is a slang term that originated from the word own and is often used in the video gaming world. Pwn in this sense means to compromise or take control of another computer, account, or website.)

Related Links/Further Reading: 

Kinds of Social Engineering Attacks:

Phishing vs. Spear Phishing:


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