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How Can We Prevent Email-Based Social Engineering Attacks?

This is a contributor’s article from Rebecca James.

Cybercriminals are significantly targeting people by sending fake emails, stealing their credentials, and uploading malicious attachments to cloud applications. It is easy and even profitable for the attacker rather than creating an expensive and time-consuming exploit that has a high possibility of failure.

Social Engineering Attacks

It is revealed that 99% of threats need human interaction to execute. Proofpoint report shared that enabling a macro, opening an attachment, following a link, all signify the importance of social engineering to allow successful attacks.

Social engineering is an art of provoking people, so they give their confidential information. The information can vary from person to person, but when they are targeted so, the attackers are trying to trick them into having access to their computer, bank information, and passwords to install malicious software. By doing so, they will get access to the targeted victim's password and bank information along with control over their system.

Criminals often use social engineering techniques because it is easier to exploit natural inclination to trust than to find out ways to hack software. Like for example, it is easy to make someone fool by asking their password rather than trying to break their password by applying different tactics.

There are various kinds of social engineering attacks, but the most common are email-based social engineering attacks. To further aid our readers on this topic, read the remaining article to know about this attack is and how one can protect themselves from it.

What Is Phishing?


Phishing is one of the most successful social engineering attacks. It plays a significant role in the implementation of cybercrimes. In 2018, 76% of the business organization had been a victim of phishing attacks. 

Phishing attacks are usually emails and text messages campaigns directed at creating curiosity, fear, and a sense of urgency among the victims. Such email-based attacks compel the victims to reveal their sensitive information, or click on links to malicious websites, and opening attachments which contain malware.

For example, an email is sent to the users of an online service which alerts them of a policy violation and require immediate action on their part, like, asking for a password change. It consists of a link to an illegal website which is similar in appearance to its legitimate version and is encouraging the user to enter their credentials and new password. The provided information goes to the attacker, who later uses it for their reasons.

Spear phishing is an under-attack version of the phishing scam. In 2012, 91% of the cyber-attacks were started with spear phishing. In this attack, an attacker selects some specific enterprises or individuals which then tailor their messages based on contacts, characteristics, and job position belonging to the targeted victim to make their attack less visible.

This attack requires much more effort from the perpetrator and might take weeks and even months to pull off. They are hard to detect and have a better success rate if performed skillfully.

How To Prevent From Getting Hooked?

Prevent From Hooked

The report states that about 83% of the Infosecurity respondents experienced phishing attacks in 2018, which was previously 76% in 2017. These figures continue to increase, but, if some tips are followed so, you might end up being the victim of such attacks. 

Following are some ways to prevent email-based social engineering attacks:

  • Be cautious of spontaneous and unwanted phone calls, emails from individuals who are seeking employee's details or some other private information.

    In an unknown person claims that he belongs from a legitimate organization, verify their identity directly from that organization.

  • Avoid providing personal information about your company. It includes networks too until and unless you're are sure of the person's identity.

  • Do not reveal any financial or personal information in emails. It includes following links which are being asked in email messages.

  • Do not send any personal or profound information over the internet without checking its website security. Pay close attention to the website's URL.

    Mostly malicious sites look like a legitimate site; however, the URL might use a different domain or spelling (like .net vs .com).

  • Don't use the contact information provided on a site connected to the request; rather than previous check statements for authentic and valid information.

  • Install, run, and regularly update anti-virus software, email filters, and firewalls to reduce such email messages. Set your automatic updates on and secure your devices by using a VPN of a reliable service provider.

  • Set your spam filters to high. Email software has spam filters. Check settings and set them high to prevent any risky messages landing into your inbox.

    But remember to check them from time to time as sometimes it is also possible that a legitimate message can be trapped there. Like for instance, my friend received her job appointment letter via email.

    But it didn't show up in her inbox. After a few days when the company enquired her for not responding to the message so, she told that she hadn't received any letter yet.

    Then the HR head said to her that they had sent her the letter, she must check her spam folder, and it was right there. So, check the folder timely.

  • Be aware and alert of risks. Watch out for cybersecurity news to take immediate actions if you're affected by a breach. You can subscribe to any newsletter for staying updated or even a Podcast as they all provide authentic information and are user-friendly.

  • To know what to protect, you should get into the minds of cybercriminals. It will be done effectively by having a red team as a line of defense.

    In case you don't have a red team, then you'll need to work on discovering the most vital assets which are likely to give power to potential attackers.

    Organizations give importance to the information which seems most crucial to their commercial and financial gain; however, this is what attackers want you to think.

    For this reason, you need to think of your most valuable assets within your organization.

  • Education plays a crucial role in protecting companies from social engineering attacks. It should be made an ongoing process with regular testing of working staff as a part of vulnerability management.

  • Security software, which is good at identifying phishing emails, should be used. Organizations might also consider using whitelisting software that will not reveal the downloading of any program that has been approved previously.

  • Start using multifactor authentication. The most valuable piece of information attacks is seeking is their credentials. Using MFA helps in protecting your accounts in case your system gets compromised.

    The Imperva Login Protect is easy to deploy two-factor authentication, which increases account security for your applications.

Final Thoughts

Social engineering attacks are getting prevalent these days. Such attacks can occur at any place and at any time, no matter if you're online or offline. The best possible way to protect and secure yourself against it is to be aware and educate yourself as well as other people around you. Also, follow the tips mentioned above to remain protected.