With a majority of enterprises today conducting their business online at least to some extent, terms like ‘social engineering,’ ‘phishing,’ and ‘ransomware’ have become common. This article will show you what exactly these terms mean, and why and how you should take all possible countermeasures against them and use anti-phishing solutions and techniques.
The Present Scenario
The war against cybercrime is becoming more challenging as adversaries employ new, better, and more advanced technologies to break into the systems of individuals and organizations with the sole motives of stealing their personal, intellectual, and financial data. Reports about these cyber crimes show an alarming trend. Research by Wombat Security reveals the escalating threat from ransomware and phishing attacks; the report says that about 83% of companies experienced phishing attacks in 2019. They further added that 96% of organizations received ransomware related email attacks in the second half of 2019.
The threat posed by these cyber attackers also finds a reflection in the findings of the renowned threat management company, Trend Micro, which states that approximately 77% of companies were hit by ransomware attacks in 2019, and Emsisoft estimates ransomware attack estimated cost is exceeded $7.5 billion at an average.
What Are These Cyber Attacks?
For their malicious intentions to succeed, cyber attackers take the help of a plethora of methods, the most widely used and capable of which are social engineering, phishing, and ransomware attacks.
According to Merriam Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary, social engineering is the practice of making laws or using other methods to influence public opinion and solve social problems or improve social conditions. In the context of cybersecurity, it is the practice of using illegal means to influence people and trick them into divulging their personal and critical information.
Social engineering techniques employed by attackers and hackers make use of deceptive emails, messages, phones calls, links, etc. that make an unsuspecting user fall into their trap and give out sensitive personal data. These social engineering techniques include phishing (particularly email phishing), virus scams, malware and ransomware attacks, etc. They rely on impersonation of authority figures or trusted persons and some form of psychological manipulation to influence the target to fall for their tricks. Proper knowledge of the multitude of social engineering techniques that exist is crucial to defend oneself from the same.
In recent times, phishing has become a pivotal instrument of malware attacks, and this sort of social engineering becomes hard to identify due to the advancing sophistication of phishers. In the technique of phishing, attackers use flawlessly crafted emails with seemingly genuine attachments that usually carry some malignant payload. The senders may pose as someone whom the recipient trusts – like business partners or executives in the sender’s organization. These attackers take refuge behind a Tor network, which makes it hard to trace them. Locating them becomes all the more dexterous because they operate from the elusive world of organized crime syndicates for whom the primary source of income is cyber fraud.
Another method frequently adopted by attackers is that of sending ransomware along with the phishing emails, which gain access to the database of the recipient. The hackers then threaten to release the confidential information of people if they don’t pay a ransom of a certain amount. A particular type of ransomware locks and encrypts the personal data stored on a person’s system and decrypts it only after the payment of a ransom.
In most cases, the attackers send an attachment with a subject that appears to be very urgent at first glance. These subjects inducing a false sense of urgency and fear can be statements like: “Urgent Account Info,” “Notice of payment,” “Confirm your 3K transfer by Wednesday,” “Shipping Document / Bl Confirmation,” “Confirmation of your delivery,” etc. The urgency of the messages, coupled with the sensitivity of the topic, is usually enough to make people open the attachments without much thought.
Why Are Phishing And Ransomware Attacks So Successful?
The reasons for the astounding effectiveness of these attacks are manifold. However, a lack of awareness or time, or a tendency to overlook the errors or peculiarities of a fake email or call, is what transforms most of the phishing attempts into successful phishing attacks.
A targeted person is usually in a position in an organization that deals with information overload. The high volume of emails that he or she receives daily can make the individual lose his caution and therefore, more likely to open suspicious emails. Attackers are so adept at their mission and at identifying vulnerabilities in an organization that they also tailor their messages to bypass the guard of such targets.
How To Protect Yourself From Falling Prey To These Attacks?
They say that prevention is better than cure, and we do second it; therefore, we advise that you make it a point to install reliable email security services in your system. It is not that the adversaries are the only people getting better at their work; the good guys are also out there brainstorming day in and day out. They’ve come up with security measures that may not necessarily eliminate the phishing emails but do ensure, to a great extent, that a minimal number of phishing emails or ransomware reach your inbox.
Apart from that, you can take steps at your level to protect yourself or your organization from falling prey to the attacks of adversaries.
To protect against phishing
- Refrain from opening emails in the spam folder or emails with unfamiliar recipients.
- Refrain from opening attachments in emails whose senders appear suspicious to you.
To protect against ransomware
- Backup your data to an external drive or cloud at regular intervals.
- Post backing up, it is imperative to disconnect your drive because present ransomware can encrypt your backup drive.
- Refrain from paying the ransom no matter what the threat is. Instead of giving away your hard-earned money, try consulting a professional who can help you decrypt your files. A significant reason why attackers keep using this form of attack is that people keep complying with their demands by paying the ransom.
- It is imperative to train all employees of an organization so that they can stop spam emails and messages in the right way. The training goes a long way in ensuring the security of an organization as well as that of individuals.
- The process of preparing oneself to face social engineering doesn’t end with little training; one must also be put to the test. Conducting a social engineering test by an outside party will empower the employees and enable your organization to avoid any attacks in the future.
- Make sure to monitor all your online accounts every once in a while to ensure that no unauthorized transactions have been made.
- Make online transactions only on websites that use the “https” protocol.
- Do not disclose sensitive personal information on the phone or unprotected sites.
- Incorporate defense practices and make sure to keep all systems updated.
In protecting yourself and your organization from social engineering, phishing, and ransomware attacks, the first thing you should adopt as phishing protection measure is, train everyone to notice these attempts and stay updated about the various techniques hackers may employ. Victims of successful attacks have often been found to be surprisingly naïve about these. This is a mistake one can easily avoid with a bit of awareness.