Social Hacking – Concepts
The following article is a discussion that explores in detail what social hacking is all about, including its working principle, its types, and prevention methods.
What is Social Hacking, Its Types, and Ways to Prevent It?
In this digitalized era, the word “hacking” has significantly diversified. In a basic sense, hacking means using computer expertise and high coding skills to penetrate and access the systems. In social hacking, hackers trick individuals or groups into providing them with sensitive information or sending them money. But many social hacking types don’t require much computer or IT expertise. So, let’s explore in detail what social hacking is all about, including its working principle, its types, and prevention methods.
What is Social Hacking?
Social hacking is the type of hacking in which the hacker uses human weaknesses to gain access to information or demand payment. Mainly, a social hack is triggered by pretending to be the person/group somehow linked to the individual. Social hackers do extensive prior research and planning to manipulate the individual effectively. Simply put, social hackers try to present themselves as a trustworthy source to control human behavior and somehow access confidential information or payment from the victim.
Social hackers can be regarded as scam artists. Consider a call from your bank as an example. You received a call from a number that claims to be from your bank and requires you to provide information about your account. The hacker will gain your trust with his professional tone and then try to manipulate your mind to give the account number or social security number intentionally. In simple words, the intelligent choice of words, the background knowledge of the victim, and exploiting the weak points are the key to the success of social hacking.
How does Social Hacking Work?
Social hacking is an attack on the human operating system, which tries to exploit the vulnerabilities in the human OS, mostly related to authority, trust, or fear. To help better understand how social hacking works, let’s take its most common form, the phishing email (scam email) and see how it works.
Consider that you worked in the finance department and received an email from your company’s CEO requesting you to wire some money. Once you receive this email, you might feel suspicious because you rarely interact with the CEO. However, according to the company’s email template, you will also notice that it looks legitimate because it is sent from the CEO’s email address. The reason the CEO is asking for money is also for the upcoming event he is attending. Since the email is from the CEO, you might feel worried if you delay the reply or raise questions. Eventually, you will send the payment to the provided account. That’s it! You have successfully become the victim of social hacking.
What happened is that the social hacker somehow managed to get the email address of the company’s CEO and then likely explored the company’s website or social media pages to learn about the upcoming event that the CEO was attending. Afterward, the hacker found you as the potential employee easy to trick and set the phishing email accordingly.
The above example shows how social hacking works. Using emails to trick individuals or groups is just one type of social hacking. Hackers also use calls, malicious documents, websites, and other social hacking tactics.
Types of Social Hacking
With technological advancements and the digitalization of the world, social hacking has evolved into multiple types. The goal behind all those types of social hacking is the same, i.e., to access sensitive information or demand money. When hackers learn about their targeted individuals, they decide which type of social hacking can be the most successful. Below is a quick look at some of the most common types of social hacking:
Electronic Email Phishing is used frequently in social hacking attacks. In a phishing attack, the attackers send fraudulent emails that seem to be coming from a trusted source but are intended to direct the user to a malicious website to access personal information or make the user download software (malware infected).
Phishing attacks are primarily based on emails but can also be executed via text messages. An example of a phishing attack can be an alert message of a policy violation from an online service or bank that requires an immediate password change. Similarly, an email from the bank manager claiming to have some vital information related to the account requires some verification. In short, hackers intend to create different scenarios and then send them randomly to hundreds of individuals to expect a few victims.
Spear phishing is similar to a phishing attack, but this time the email is designed for a specific individual or organization. The target is to make the attack look more legitimate by orienting it based on the job position or co-workers. The CEO email example we discussed above is precisely how spear phishing works.
Spear phishing demands more effort than a random phishing attack and might take weeks, if not months, to make it work. However, spear phishing offers more success because it is much more difficult to detect and mostly seems legitimate.
Pretexting is another popular social hacking type in which hackers create a scenario where the user feels comfortable providing whatever information the hackers ask. Hackers mostly set up a collection of smartly crafted lies beforehand so that they gradually deploy them based on the scenario.
The hacker pretends to be a banker, policeman, co-worker, or tax officer who has the right to ask for sensitive information. So, the hacker establishes trust with the individuals and then asks them to confirm their identity. This way, they slowly start grabbing personal data, such as social security numbers, bank details, addresses, etc.
As the name implies, scareware triggers scare emotions in the targeted individuals mainly by fictitious threats or false alarms. Most often, individuals are made to think that something has happened to their system, and they can fix the issue by installing the provided software, which is mostly the malware itself.
You might have seen a pop-up message appearing suddenly in your browser, claiming that some harmful virus may infect your system. It will either ask you to click the link or provide software (malware itself) to inspect and fix your system. Other than this form of scareware, hackers also use spam emails to show warnings or some attractive services to trick individuals somehow.
Baiting attacks present something curious in front of the user, urging the user to explore it more. From the technological perspective, a baiting attack can appear as tempting ads on something like gift cards and free software products.
When the user clicks the ad, the link might take him to a malicious website, encourage him to download malware into the system or try to trick him into providing personal information. In short, baiting is the type of social hacking that triggers the excitement or curiosity of users and then manipulate their behaviors.
Social Hacking vs. Social Engineering
There is a misconception between the terms social hacking and social engineering. Both these terms are used interchangeably and seem to have the same meaning. However, the fact is that social hacking is a form of social engineering.
Social engineering is the broad but general term for all attacks that involve manipulating individuals. One example of social engineering is leaving a malicious USB in a public space and expecting someone to pick it up and later plug it into the system. However, the word “hacking” is mainly associated with attacks that are intended to access the victim’s computer or modify the software to access digital information. Therefore, social hacking is about using some form of technology along with manipulating/convincing skills to trick individuals and groups into trusting the attack methodology and providing the required personal information or intentionally installing the malware in the system.
How to Protect from Social Hacking?
When done right, social hacking can be tricky to detect. However, there are always some practical ways to protect yourself and your organization from social hackers. Below are the six best methods in this perspective:
Double-Check Suspicious Emails and Phone Calls
When you receive a suspicious email or phone call that asks for personal information, requires you to open a certaspecific, or download an unknown software, wait for a few moments. Look for the authenticity of the email. See if the spelling of the email address is correct or if there are some additional characters added. If the email is from the bank or any other service where you can make a call and confirm about the email, then do it. If it’s the email from co-workers, the CEO, or any other known contact, then better ask them via a call to reconfirm the email. Do similar checks if you receive a suspicious phone call that demands personal information.
Don’t Click Everything
Don’t let appealing ads or exciting free/discounted offers from unknown sources make you click the links. Instead of clicking the ads, you can visit their official websites or Google them to check if they are legitimate.
One of the leading reasons why employees get into the trap of social hacking is the lack of awareness. They are never trained to detect such scams and often follow the appealing path set up by hackers. Therefore, awareness training is a must for employees today. So, set up a proper training plan for employees and reduce the chances of social hacking significantly.
Keep your system up-to-date. This includes regularly updating the operating system, installing security patches, and keeping the other software up-to-date.
Install Antivirus and Firewalls
Even if hackers successfully access the system, they cannot do much if the system detects malicious software or codes. That’s why it is essential to install antivirus and firewalls to add a layer of defense.
Most online services now offer multi-factor authentication in which there is a second level of authentication via OTP (one-time password) after verifying the username and password. This helps in scenarios when hackers can access the login credentials but won’t be able to access the account due to the second authentication. So, implement the multi-factor authentication practice for all digital services.
With digital advancements, the cyberattack surface is also increasing aggressively. Cybercriminals are continuously busy deploying new tactics and techniques to trick individuals and organizations. Social hacking is one potentially damaging type of cyberattack that has evolved into multiple forms over the past few years. Above, we have discussed all the essential details you should know about social hacking and some of the main ways to prevent it. So, implement those measures and explore more to reduce the chances of any breach.