Social Engineering Penetration Testing

Penetration tests expose an organization’s cybersecurity vulnerabilities so they can be fixed. Here’s what you need to know to capitalize on pen tests.

Social Engineering Tests Human Vulnerabilities

In cybersecurity, the human element is often known as the “weakest link.” Your organization could have the latest, state-of-the-art cybersecurity defenses in place, but it would all count for nothing if just one employee is coerced into revealing sensitive organizational information. Social engineering assessments test weaknesses in human nature. They are critically important because employees are the first line of defense against cyberattacks.

What is Social Engineering?

Social engineering assessments emulate the coercion and manipulative techniques hackers use to trick employees into unwittingly breaching an organization’s cyber defenses. The assessments help organizations identify human vulnerabilities so they can be remediated through training and improvement in the level of cybersecurity awareness among employees.

The training addresses specific weaknesses so organizations can shore up defenses. Customized Security Awareness Training generates maximum ROI by focusing on areas where each employee is weak rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all approach.

How Social Engineering Testing Helps

After ethical hackers deploy these common forms of attacks on employees, organizations should follow up with Security Awareness Training that educates employees, so they are less likely to fall victim to a hacker.

For example, an employee who is prone to clicking potentially malicious links in emails can be provided with customized phishing awareness training. An employee who often allows other folks to “piggyback” into secure premises would be a prime candidate for physical security awareness training.

Types of Social Engineering Attacks

The techniques that can be used in a social engineering assessment are only limited by imagination and creativity.

Here are some common types of social engineering attacks / tests:

  • Phishing

    Phishing is when attackers use emails, social media, instant messaging, or SMS to trick victims into divulging sensitive information or clicking on malicious links. Phishing emails are crafted to create a sense of urgency to get the victim to act.

  • Vishing

    Vishing is a social engineering attack that tricks victims into divulging personal or sensitive information over the phone. Attackers will typically spoof their caller ID to make it appear calls are coming from a legitimate source, such as the IRS. The attacker then threatens adverse action if the victim doesn’t provide a payment and key in credit card details.

  • Spear Phishing

    Spear phishing attacks target a specific person, business, or organization. The cybercriminals research their targets and then craft tailored attacks to trick victims into thinking they are receiving, for example, a legitimate wire request from a colleague or client. The tailoring and customization involved in spear phishing brings higher success rates for attackers.

  • Smishing

    That’s short for “SMS phishing” – a social engineering attack that hackers use to target victims on their phones via SMS. This technique is essentially phishing but carried out over text (SMS) messages. Just like email phishing scams, the SMS will typically have a malicious link that, when clicked, downloads malware onto the device or leads the victim to a page that attempts to steal her/his credentials.

  • Baiting

    In this technique attackers use “bait” to lure victims. The bait could be USB pen drives, CDs, DVDs, and so on. First, the attacker gains access to the victims’ workplace to place the bait in strategic locations where a victim is most likely to fall for it. For instance, the attacker may leave on a cafeteria table a CD that says “Layoffs – Employee List.” A curious employee who comes across the CD would likely insert the CD in a computer, allowing malware on the CD to spread into the organization’s technical infrastructure.

  • Tailgating

    In tailgating, an attacker tries to enter a secure area that requires an access card. The attacker typically waits for someone with an authorized access card to come along and then manipulates the person into believing that s/he mistakenly left her/his access card inside. The person with the access card might then help the attacker gain unauthorized access to a secure area. With tailgating, attackers try to exploit the helpfulness in human nature.

Effective Security Awareness Training

Penetration testing is a great tool. But if an organization doesn’t follow up to address the human - as well as technical - vulnerabilities exposed by penetration testing, hackers will still find their way in. Remember: Employees are an organization’s first line of defense against cyberattacks. It it’s imperative that they be cyber-aware.

The Human Factor in Data Breaches

Looking back at the massive data breaches of the past, it is clear that cyberattacks are disruptions that can bring even the biggest and best businesses to a standstill. It would be fair to say that a number of these data breaches could have been avoided or minimized, if there was a better or different approach to cybersecurity awareness training.

While most organizations provide cybersecurity awareness training to employees, the results and outcomes are sometimes far from desirable. Most employees do not view cybersecurity as part of their job.  Organization’s perpetuate this perception when they treat Security Awareness Training as just another box to be checked off on a compliance checklist via annual training.

Key Elements of an Effective Security Awareness Training Program

  • Analyze the organization’s current program by observing the level of resources and support available to the program, the regulatory compliance requirements that are covered, and whether the program incorporates industry best practices and standards.
  • Develop a security awareness program that strives to change the behaviors of individuals, which, in turn, bolsters the security culture. Top management must regularly reinforce the message to employees that cybersecurity is at the core of the organization’s success.
  • Ensure that the content of a Security Awareness Training program must be diverse, engaging, and to-the-point. Remember that you’re trying to reach, not preach.
  • Use a combination of training methods, such as engaging videos, animations, games and interactive content. Consider adding a competitive element into the mix. Ensure that videos are mobile device friendly so that employees can view them on their smartphones as well.
  • Maintain and regularly update your program because awareness is a continuous process. A number of hacker techniques and protection methods in use today will be obsolete a year from now, if not sooner. Update your cybersecurity awareness training program at least once a year or whenever there is a significant technical or operational change at your organization.
  • Measure the effectiveness of your cybersecurity awareness training program on an ongoing basis. Gather key performance metrics and indicators to gauge the effectiveness of the program and incorporate lessons learned to update it.

See examples of our Cyber Security Awareness Training modules by clicking here.

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