Understanding and avoiding social engineering attacks

Preventing social engineering attacks can be a challenge as they come in various forms and rely heavily on exploiting human psychology

The rapid pace of technological development in cybersecurity has provided companies with a competitive edge against malicious actors. However, just as businesses have embraced digital transformation and new operational approaches, so have their adversaries.

In today’s constantly changing cyber landscape, Octo Tempest has emerged as a dangerous and alarming financial criminal organisation. The threat group is renowned for its broad range of tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), and has attracted the scrutiny of security professionals and institutions globally. 

One organisation closely observing Octo Tempest is Microsoft, which acknowledges the growing concern generated by these advancing operations across diverse sectors.

Who is Octo Tempest?

As reported by Microsoft's Incident Response and Threat Intelligence teams, ‘Octo Tempest is a financially motivated collective of native English-speaking threat actors known for launching wide-ranging campaigns that prominently feature adversary-in-the-middle (AiTM) techniques, social engineering, and SIM swapping capabilities’.

The group initially surfaced in 2022 and has gradually transitioned from data theft to data extortion, and most recently, to ransomware, marking its affiliation with the ALPHV/BlackCat group in the summer. Octo Tempest’s motivation is entirely financial and almost always begins with either a phishing email/message or a social engineering call.

Microsoft refers to Octo Tempest as one of the largest financial crime threats in the world and recognises that its deployment of advanced capabilities sets it apart from most similar groups. By closely monitoring the groups' evolving strategies and sharing this information with the cybersecurity community, Microsoft is proactively engaged in the collective effort to safeguard against emerging cyber threats.

Social engineering attacks - how to avoid them?

Social engineering covers a wide spectrum of malicious activities that are carried out through human interactions. These interactions rely on psychological manipulation to deceive and trick users into making security errors and divulging confidential information. 

The attacks typically unfold in multiple stages. Initially, the attacker conducts an inquiry into the targeted individual, collecting essential background data, including potential vulnerabilities and weak security measures. The perpetrator then aims to establish trust with the victim, asking them to disclose sensitive information or provide access to vital resources, in order to ‘assist them’

Social engineering attacks are particularly dangerous because they exploit human vulnerability, not software or operating system flaws. They come in various forms and are carried out wherever human interaction is involved. There are five primary digital social engineering assaults:

Baiting: Baiting attacks use false promises to exploit a victim's curiosity or greed, often distributing malware through physical media, like malware-infected flash drives left in visible locations. 

Scareware: Scareware bombards victims with false alarms and deceptive threats, prompting them to install worthless or harmful software, often through deceptive pop-up banners or spam emails. 

Pretexting: Perpetrators obtain information by weaving elaborate lies, often impersonating trustworthy figures to extract sensitive data, such as social security numbers or personal addresses. 

Phishing: Phishing scams, usually through email or text messages, create a sense of urgency or fear to coax individuals into revealing sensitive information, clicking malicious links, or opening malware-laden attachments.

Spear Phishing: A more targeted form of phishing, spear phishing tailors messages to specific individuals or organisations, often requiring extensive effort and using personalised details to appear authentic.

Vigilance is the key to safeguarding

Social engineers exploit human emotions like curiosity and fear to carry out their schemes, therefore it is important to stay cautious when receiving alarming emails, tempting online offers, or unattended digital media. 

By exercising caution with emails and attachments, implementing multifactor authentication, and keeping antivirus and antimalware software updated, these tips can all help to protect users from falling victim to social engineering attacks in the digital environment.

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Other magazines that may be of interest - Technology Magazine | AI Magazine.

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