Types of Social Engineering-Attacks

Social engineering can be broken into two common types:
  • Human-Based Human-based social engineering refers to person-to-person interaction to retrieve the desired information. An example is calling the help desk and trying to find out a password.
  • Computer-Based Computer-based social engineering refers to having computer software that attempts to retrieve the desired information. An example is sending a user an email and asking them to reenter a password in a web page to confirm it. This social-engineering attack is also known as phishing.
We'll look at each of these more closely in the following sections.

Human-Based Social Engineering

Human-based social engineering techniques can be broadly categorized as follows:
  • Impersonating an Employee or Valid User In this type of social-engineering attack, the hacker pretends to be an employee or valid user on the system. A hacker can gain physical access by pretending to be a janitor, employee, or contractor. Once inside the facility, the hacker gathers information from trashcans, desktops, or computer systems.
  • Posing as an Important User In this type of attack, the hacker pretends to be an important user such as an executive or high-level manager who needs immediate assistance to gain access to a computer system or files. The hacker uses intimidation so that a lower-level employee such as a help desk worker will assist them in gaining access to the system. Most low-level employees won't question someone who appears to be in a position of authority.
  • Using a Third Person Using the third-person approach, a hacker pretends to have permission from an authorized source to use a system. This attack is especially effective if the supposed authorized source is on vacation or can't be contacted for verification.
  • Calling Technical Support Calling tech support for assistance is a classic social-engineering technique. Help desk and technical support personnel are trained to help users, which makes them good prey for social-engineering attacks.
  • Shoulder Surfing Shoulder surfing is a technique of gathering passwords by watching over a person's shoulder while they log in to the system. A hacker can watch a valid user log in and then use that password to gain access to the system.
  • Dumpster Diving Dumpster diving involves looking in the trash for information written on pieces of paper or computer printouts. The hacker can often find passwords, filenames, or other pieces of confidential information.
A more advanced method of gaining illicit information is known as reverse social engineering. Using this technique, a hacker creates a persona that appears to be in a position of authority so that employees ask the hacker for information, rather than the other way around. For example, a hacker can impersonate a help desk employee and get the user to give them information such as a password.

Computer-Based Social Engineering

Computer-based social-engineering attacks can include the following:
  • Email attachments
  • Fake websites
  • Pop-up windows

Insider Attacks

If a hacker can't find any other way to hack an organization, the next best option is to infiltrate the organization by getting hired as an employee or finding a disgruntled employee to assist in the attack. Insider attacks can be powerful because employees have physical access and are able to move freely about the organization. An example might be someone posing as a delivery person by wearing a uniform and gaining access to a delivery room or loading dock. Another possibility is someone posing as a member of the cleaning crew who has access to the inside of the building and is usually able to move about the offices. As a last resort, a hacker might bribe or otherwise coerce an employee to participate in the attack by providing information such as passwords.

Identity Theft

A hacker can pose as an employee or steal the employee's identity to perpetrate an attack. Information gathered in dumpster diving or shoulder surfing in combination with creating fake ID badges can gain the hacker entry into an organization. Creating a persona that can enter the building unchallenged is the goal of identity theft.

Phishing Attacks

Phishing involves sending an email, usually posing as a bank, credit card company, or other financial organization. The email requests that the recipient confirm banking information or reset passwords or PINs. The user clicks the link in the email and is redirected to a fake website. The hacker is then able to capture this information and use it for financial gain or to perpetrate other attacks. Emails that claim the senders have a great amount of money but need your help getting it out of the country are examples of phishing attacks. These attacks prey on the common person and are aimed at getting them to provide bank account access codes or other confidential information to the hacker.

Online Scams

Some websites that make free offers or other special deals can lure a victim to enter a username and password that may be the same as those they use to access their work system. The hacker can use this valid username and password once the user enters the information in the website form.
Mail attachments can be used to send malicious code to a victim's system, which could automatically execute something like a software keylogger to capture passwords. Viruses, Trojans, and worms can be included in cleverly crafted emails to entice a victim to open the attachment. Mail attachments are considered a computer-based social-engineering attack.
Here is an example of an email that which tries to convince the receiver to open an unsafe attachment:
Mail server report.
    Our firewall determined the e-mails containing worm copies are being sent from your computer.
    Nowadays it happens from many computers, because this is a new virus type (Network Worms).
    Using the new bug in the Windows, these viruses infect the computer unnoticeably.
    After the penetrating into the computer the virus harvests all the e-mail addresses and sends the
    copies of itself to these e-mail addresses
    Please install updates for worm elimination and your computer restoring.
    Best regards,
    Customer support service
Pop-up windows can also be used in computer-based engineering attacks, in a similar manner to email attachments. Pop-up windows with special offers or free stuff can encourage a user to unintentionally install malicious software.

URL Obfuscation

The URL (uniform resource locator) is commonly used in the address bar of a web browser to access a particular website. In lay terms, it is the website address. URL obfuscation consists of hiding a fake URL in what appear to be a legitimate website address. For example, a website of may appear to be a legitimate web address for Citibank but in fact is not. URL obfuscation is used in phishing attacks and some online scams to make the scam seem more legitimate. A website address may be seen as an actual financial institution name or logo, but the link leads to a fake website or IP address. When users click the link, they're redirected to the hacker's site.
Addresses can be obfuscated in malicious links by the use of hexadecimal or decimal notations. For example, the address looks like 3232238085 as a decimal. The same address looks like C0A80A05 in IP hex. This conversion requires that you divide 3232238085 by 16 multiple times. Each time the remainder reveals the address, starting from the least significant value.
Here's the explanation:
  • 3232238085/16 = 202014880.3125 (.3125 × 16 = 5)
  • 202014880/16 = 12625930.0 (.0 × 16 = 0)
  • 12625930/16 = 789120.625 (.625 × 16 = 10 = A)
  • 789120/16 = 49320.0 (.0 × 16 = 0)
  • 49320.0/16 = 3082.5 (.5 × 16 = 8)
  • 3082/16 = 192.625 (.625 × 16 = 10 = A)
  • 192/16 = 12 = C

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