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The Alternative Board Blog

Social Engineering: Your Employees Might Be Your Biggest Security Risk

Apr. 10, 2024 | Posted by The Alternative Board
Audio Narration of Social Engineering: Your Employees Might Be Your Biggest Security Risk

Social engineering is a hacking approach in which cybercriminals exploit human nature, psychology, curiosity, and ignorance to manipulate unsuspecting individuals into clicking on something harmful. Once the trap is set and a user opens a document embedded with malicious code or maybe enters login credentials to the company bank account, the damage is almost impossible to stop. A virus spreads through the network. A financial account is emptied. Your entire organization comes to a screeching halt due to ransomware. No matter how the cyberthreat manifests, it is always very-very bad news. And most often one that could have been avoided with a heightened commitment to security awareness training and a culture of cyber safety.

Diving Deeper into Social Engineering

Cybercriminals employ an arsenal of social engineering tactics like pretexting, phishing, baiting, and tailgating, to trick users into providing sensitive information or granting unauthorized access. These attacks often leverage psychological manipulation, authority exploitation, and emotional appeals to deceive unsuspecting targets like your employees.

Social engineering is an insidious and growing threat to SMBs. Bad actors assume that small businesses are easier targets than larger corporations, presumably due to lesser IT resources or an overall lack of security. Not to mention that a business can have all the firewalls and antivirus software available, but if an employee is manipulated into sharing their login and password with a hacking group on the other side of the world, well, that’s a whole different ballgame.

According to recent cybersecurity statistics cited by StrongDM:

  • Employees of small businesses experience 350% more social engineering attacks than those at larger enterprises.
  • Only 17% of small businesses encrypt their data.
  • While 80% of all hacking incidents in 2020 involved compromised credentials or passwords, a mere 20% of small businesses have implemented multi-factor authentication.

It is clear, that strong technical security in your business and throughout your systems is essential, but educating your employees on social engineering and phishing red flags is equally as important.

What Exactly Is Phishing?

Phishing is one of the most common forms of social engineering. It is when a hacker (also known as a bad actor) initiates communication, pretending to be a bank or some other trusted entity. They attempt to manipulate the user into providing login credentials in order to gain access into financial accounts or internal systems. Phishing attempts most commonly occur via fraudulent emails, texts, or phone calls. While hackers are getting increasingly talented at creating very realistic-looking emails and well-crafted messaging (in large part due to artificial intelligence) there are still common red flags, particularly an insisted-upon level of urgency related to the hacker's requested action.

The Insidious Art of Pretexting and Baiting

Hackers use pretexting to fabricate stories aimed at tricking employees into exposing sensitive information or taking certain actions. They may impersonate business leadership, IT staff, HR, or even vendors to exploit trust and manipulate employees into sharing sensitive information or transferring money into fraudulent accounts under the guise of a missed payment or an account in arrears. 

Baiting is when hackers attempt to entice users with fabulous offers or opportunities. Once the victim takes the bait by interacting with the malicious content, their actions immediately compromise network and data security.

How to Combat Social Engineering

It is important for every business, regardless of size, to have a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy that notably includes security awareness training for everyone in the company.

Whether you opt for a third-party security awareness training program or simply want to reinforce cyber safety best practices, the following are smart but simple tactics to mitigate the dangers that human nature poses to your company's overall security posture:

  • Educate employees on social engineering tactics and red flags to look out for.
  • Instill the importance of skepticism and internal verification when being asked for anything out of the norm.
  • Implement Multi Factor Authentication (MFA) to reduce the risk of unauthorized access.
  • Enforce a strong password policy, including regular password changes and password complexity requirements.
  • Develop an incident response plan that maps out essential steps for containment and recovery in the event of a social engineering attack.
  • Implement a network monitoring solution or third-party service to detect and respond to suspicious activity.

As you continue to create a culture of cyber safety in your business, remember that knowledge is not only power, but also the first line of defense in keeping your systems, data, and entire company as secure as possible.

Read our 19 Reasons You Need a Business Owner Advisory Board


Written by The Alternative Board

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