Are Your Employees Prepared for Social Engineering Attacks?

In many cases, your employees are your first line of defense against cyber threats — and nowhere is this truer than with social engineering attacks. Social engineering is a non-technical hacking strategy that, when executed well, allows attackers to fool employees into granting access past your organization’s technical defenses. Through human interaction by phone, email, instant messaging, or even in-person, attackers socially manipulate people into subverting security practices.

Social engineering covers a broad range of potential methods but the result is the same: The cyber attacker bypasses the stalwart walls you’ve built around your data and simply walks through the front door. Security industry surveys have shown that social engineering is now the top hacking method for attackers and the threat isn’t going away anytime soon. Human nature is a reliable vulnerability and you should be well aware of this as you work to maintain security for your business.

Preparing for and defeating social engineering attacks requires constant, ongoing vigilance on the part of your company’s personnel. How will your people react to these attacks and how can you make sure they are ready to keep your network secure? Let’s find out.

Examples of Social Engineering Attacks

There are many tactics attackers use to gain access to your network. Here are some examples:

  • Phone number exploits (hacking into cell phones) eliminate the security of two-factor authentication processes.
  • An email from a trusted corporate address contains attachments that, once downloaded, can introduce malware into the network.
  • Attackers make phone calls pretending to be your IT department and requesting information that will help them infiltrate your network — or even just help them gain credibility with the next person they call.
  • Attackers spoof websites or use social networks to gain information about targets.
  • People are becoming more privy to phishing as a common tactic but spear phishing — or highly targeted phishing — can still catch targets unaware when an attacker has done his research and seems legitimate to the target.

Social engineering also takes advantage of common missteps on the part of employees, such as poor password security. While many password systems automate the task of choosing a strong password, people often respond to complex password requirements by using the same passwords at home and in the workplace. An attacker might use social engineering methods to gain users’ home passwords, knowing it’s likely they’ll find someone who uses the same password on your corporate network.

Countering Social Engineering Attacks

As Alissa Johnson, CISO of Xerox, pointed out in a recent interview, the biggest challenge in cybersecurity management is people. It’s important to both educate personnel and make security a part of company culture. However, she also pointed out that it’s important to make security processes simple enough that people can follow them. If the system is too complicated for the average user, it can cause issues or security lapses.

Scheduling a comprehensive vulnerability assessment that identifies your organization’s weak points on both a technological and human level is a great start. Such assessments can include a social exposure assessment, which examines your company’s public exposure on social networks through publicly-identifiable employees.

Taking it a step further, cybersecurity experts agree that there is no substitute for rigorous, full-spectrum penetration testing to see where your security is weak. These tests should include social engineering as an avenue of attack. Challenging your company’s personnel with convincing phishing emails, phone calls, and even in-person interactions can outline potential vulnerabilities and demonstrate to your employees how easy it is to expose sensitive information to outsiders.

After you’ve learned about potential issues, educating your team is key to strengthening these weak areas. Our belief is that education should start during the onboarding process and continue on a regular basis. There are a host of programs, both online and in-person, that can help you instill a security mindset in your workforce. Make sure that your particular areas of weakness are covered in depth.

You Can Defend Against Social Engineering

While defending against social engineering tactics requires a more holistic approach than protecting against machine exploits, people can be taught how to make security part of their everyday mindset. Think of a strong social engineering defense as building a human firewall to supplement your technological one.

Building this human firewall can help close a significant gap in your network’s defenses. Through rigorous assessment and testing, as well as comprehensive and effective education, your company can defend against this insidious cyber attack tactic.


Sentek Cyber is a trusted firm with a wealth of experience spanning multiple industries. We would love to find out more about your company and your specific needs. Contact us today to start a conversation.