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Social Engineering Penetration Testing

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What Is Social Engineering Penetration Testing?

Social engineering is a threat vector that is becoming increasingly common in today’s digital landscape. It takes advantage of people’s natural inclination to help and support others.  

To combat these attacks, social engineering penetration testing has emerged as a vital cybersecurity service that helps businesses identify their vulnerabilities and assess their ability to withstand social engineering attacks.  

The process involves simulating real-life attacks by ethical hackers – also known as pen testers or social engineers – to determine the strength of a business’s security posture. 

The goal of social engineering penetration testing is to identify vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit and provide recommendations on how to improve the organisation’s security.  

By conducting regular social engineering penetration tests, businesses can stay ahead of attackers and protect their sensitive data. 

A social engineering penetration test will help to: 

  • Identify the publicly available information that an attacker could gather about your organisation 
  • Assess the susceptibility of your employees to social engineering attacks 
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of your information security policy and cyber security controls in detecting and preventing social engineering attacks 
  • Create a targeted security awareness training program based on the test results 
engineer looking at computer for SOC management

Types of social engineering attacks

What are some common Social Engineering attack scenarios?

Social engineering attacks have become a go-to strategy for cyber criminals due to their effectiveness. It’s estimated that 95% of successful attacks start with a phishing email.  

Social engineering exploits human psychology by manipulating the target into doing something they shouldn’t, such as providing sensitive information or accessing restricted areas.  

Organisations must educate their employees about social engineering to prevent falling victim to this attack vector.  

Attackers use a wide range of techniques, but some of the most common types of social engineering attacks are phishing, pretexting, baiting, tailgating, and impersonation. 

Phishing is a widespread social engineering attack that involves sending emails or messages that appear to come from legitimate sources, such as banks or social media platforms.

The message usually contains a link that leads to a fake login page where the attacker steals the victim’s login credentials. Security company RSA experienced a data breach after falling victim to a phishing attack. The attacker sent two phishing emails over two days with the subject line “Recruitment Plan” to small groups of RSA employees.

The emails contained an Excel file attachment which, when opened, installed a backdoor that compromised RSA’s SecurID two-factor authentication (2FA) system. 

Pretexting is another social engineering attack that involves creating a false scenario to gain access to sensitive information or systems. An attacker may pretend to be a customer or vendor to ask an employee to provide login credentials or other sensitive information.

In 2015, cybercriminals gained access to the personal AOL email account of then-CIA director John Brennan by posing as a Verizon technician to ask for information about Brennan’s account. Once the hackers had obtained Brennan’s Verizon account details, they used the information to correctly answer security questions for Brennan’s email account. 

Baiting is an attack that involves enticing a victim with a promised reward or incentive, such as a free USB drive, that contains malware that allows the attacker to gain access to the victim’s computer or network. 

Tailgating involves following someone into a restricted area without proper authorisation. The attacker may pretend to be an employee or a delivery person to gain access.  

Impersonation is another social engineering attack where an attacker pretends to be someone else, such as a company representative or IT support.

The Syrian Electronic Army was able to access the Associated Press (AP) Twitter account by including a malicious link in a phishing email. The email was sent to AP employees under the guise of being from a fellow employee, and the hackers tweeted a fake news story that caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to drop 150 points in under 5 minutes.  

Vishing is a phishing attack that occurs over the phone, where an attacker calls and pretends to be someone else to trick the target into providing sensitive information. 

Smishing is a phishing attack that occurs via SMS or text messaging.  

USB drops are a method that places malicious USBs in communal areas throughout a workspace.

The USBs typically contain software that, when plugged in, install malware that can provide a backdoor into a system or transfer files with common file extensions. 

Whaling is a specific type of phishing attack. A whaling attack targets high-profile employees, such as the chief financial officer or chief executive officer, to trick the targeted employee into disclosing sensitive information. 

In this attack, the hacker pretends to be an attractive person to interact with a person online, fake an online relationship and gather sensitive information through that relationship. 

5bn

stolen due to social engineering in the last 3 years

55%

of all emails are spam

97%

of all attacks use some form of social engineering

How a social engineering attack takes place

Social engineering attacks often use psychological manipulation to deceive target victims into performing an action that puts the organisation at risk.  

For example, a phishing email may appear to be from a legitimate source, such as a bank or an IT department, asking the victim to click on a link that installs malware on their device.  

A cybercriminal social engineer may impersonate a trusted employee to gain physical access to a restricted area. 

Attackers often conduct extensive research on their targets to increase their chances of success. They gather information from multiple sources including social media profiles, job postings, or public records. 

Once an attacker has identified a target, they will typically craft a message or scenario that appeals to the target’s emotions or desires directly. 

In the past, attackers focused on internet-facing infrastructure for their attacks. However, with technology development, attackers are finding more success when targeting people and processes.  

It’s critical to continually review and improve security measures to mitigate the risks of successful social engineering attacks. 

Social engineering penetration testing will help you to: 

  • Identify vulnerabilities in your organisation’s security protocols 
  • Raise awareness among employees about potential social engineering attacks 
  • Improve employee training and education programs 
  • Develop a risk management plan for social engineering threats 
  • Provide actionable recommendations to improve your security posture 
  • Enhance overall security and reduce the risk of successful attacks 
  • Meet compliance and regulatory requirements 
  • Mitigate potential financial losses and reputational damage 

Why you need social engineering penetration testing

Key benefits of a Social Engineering Penetration Test

Social engineering attacks are a growing threat to businesses of all sizes.  

These attacks are using psychological manipulation to appeal to your workforce’s emotions or desires, and they can be highly effective if executed properly. 

If you are a larger enterprise, for example, the attacker may gather intelligence on your organisational structure, internal operations, and industry or supply chain partners.  

The attacker may also focus on the behaviours and patterns of your employees who have low-level access, such as a security guard or receptionist, to study their behaviour online and in person. 

To prevent these social engineering attacks, organisations should engage with social engineering penetration testing service providers to stay one step ahead of hackers.  

Discuss your cyber security options

Get in touch today to speak to an expert and secure your business, or call us on 0800 090 3734

Social engineering penetration testing methodology

Techniques for Social Engineering Penetration Testing

Social engineering penetration testing methodology is an essential aspect of ensuring that an organisation’s security is up to standard.  

By simulating a real-life social engineering attack, it identifies potential weaknesses in the security system, which can be remedied before an actual attack occurs.  

There are 5 key steps involved in social engineering penetration testing methodology, with each step having its own importance within the overall process. 

Protecting your business against social engineering attacks

As long as email addresses are still in use, phishing emails will continue to be a common threat vector 

It’s crucial to have a comprehensive approach to protect your organisation against these attacks, including penetration testing social engineering, technical, and non-technical controls. 

By following these best practices, your organisation can protect itself against social engineering attacks and reduce the risk of a potential breach. 

Learn more about how Pure Technology Group proactively protected their business from phishing attacks with social engineering penetration testing, following a period of high growth and increased threat. 

One of the best practices to mitigate the risk of social engineering attacks is regular employee training.  

Providing training on social engineering awareness and best practices can help prevent employees from falling for such attacks. Staff members should be taught how to identify and avoid phishing emails, social engineering attacks, and other malicious activities.

Another critical element is security policies that govern access to sensitive data and physical areas.  

It’s essential to define and enforce these policies to protect your business from potential breaches. Implementing controls like anti-phishing software, intrusion detection systems, and access control systems can further protect your organisation from social engineering attacks. 

Conducting regular social engineering security penetration testing is another way to identify vulnerabilities and test the effectiveness of your security controls.  

These tests can be used to assess an organisation’s cyber security posture by identifying vulnerabilities in people, processes, and technology. Penetration testing social engineering could include physical building and access controls in shared office spaces, which should always be assessed for vulnerabilities. 

Implementing secure email and web gateways, keeping anti-malware and antivirus software up to date, and keeping software and firmware patched on endpoints are technical measures that can prevent social engineering attacks.  

It’s essential to keep track of staff members that handle sensitive information and enable advanced authentication measures for them.  

Implementing 2FA (two-factor authentication) to access key accounts and ensuring that employees do not reuse the same passwords for personal and work accounts are also critical strategies. 

Implementing spam filters can help determine which emails are likely to be spam, blacklist suspicious Internet Protocol (IP) addresses or sender IDs, detect suspicious files or links, and analyse the content of emails to determine which may be potential phishing attacks 

To prevent social engineering attacks, it is crucial to ask yourself some essential questions:

What information about your organisation is publicly available that could be used to facilitate social engineering attacks?  

Are staff members vulnerable to phishing and other forms of social engineering?  

Could an attacker gain unauthorised access to offices and site locations by exploiting weak security measures?  

What information could be obtained by someone taking hardware off-site? 

Discuss your cyber security options

Get in touch today to speak to an expert and secure your business, or call us on 0800 090 3734

DigitalXRAID’s Social Engineering Penetration Testing Service

DigitalXRAID’s Social Engineering Penetration Testing Service is a comprehensive and bespoke approach to assessing security posture.  

We have a dedicated team of social engineers who are constantly refining their craft and understanding the latest threat intelligence, so they can better protect you from attack. 

What sets DigitalXRAID apart from other providers is our personalised approach. We will work as an extension of your own team from the very beginning, taking time to understand your business and specific threats.  

Your social engineering penetration test will be modelled specifically to assess your people, processes, and technology most effectively. Let our experts provide you with guidance if you’re early in your cyber security journey. 

Why Choose DigitalXRAID?

DigitalXRAID is CREST (Council of Registered Ethical Security Testers) accredited for multiple services including our Security Operations Centre and penetration testing services. We also hold government CREST accreditation for our penetration testing services 

Our team are highly certified, including CREST CCT and Offensive Security OSCP. 

Work with DigitalXRAID to: 

  • Educate your employees about how social engineering attacks are carried out 
  • Implement and maintain appropriate security controls to mitigate threats 
  • Highlight and address any issues with operating procedures 
  • Evaluate how susceptible your employees are to social engineering attacks 
  • Develop a targeted staff awareness training programme 
  • Identify the amount of information available online about your organisation 
  • Determine the effectiveness of your information security policies and cybersecurity controls 
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Social Engineering Penetration Testing Q&A

Social engineering is a type of cyberattack that involves manipulating people to divulge sensitive information, perform an action, or gain access to a system or network.  

The attacker uses psychological tactics and deception to trick the victim into giving away confidential information or performing actions that can compromise the security of an organisation. Social engineering attacks can take many forms, including phishing, pretexting, baiting, and tailgating, among others.  

These attacks often target human vulnerabilities, such as curiosity, fear, trust, or helpfulness, rather than technical vulnerabilities in a system. Social engineering attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and organisations need to educate their employees about these attacks and implement appropriate security controls to mitigate them. 

Getting a social engineering assessment is crucial for organisations to identify vulnerabilities in their security systems and processes. Social engineering attacks have become increasingly sophisticated, and attackers often use this technique to bypass technical security controls, targeting the human element instead. 

By conducting social engineering assessments, organisations can evaluate how susceptible their employees are to such attacks and determine the effectiveness of their information security policies and cybersecurity controls at identifying and preventing social engineering attacks. This assessment can also identify the amount of information available online about the organisation that can easily be accessed by an attacker. 

Furthermore, a social engineering assessment can provide a basis on which to highlight issues with operating procedures and develop targeted staff awareness training. The assessment can also help organisations prioritise their security investments and improve their overall security posture. Overall, a social engineering assessment is a proactive approach to identifying and mitigating security risks before they can be exploited by attackers. 

Social Engineering is a subset of Penetration Testing (Pen Tests) and is used to test an organisation’s security posture by attempting to exploit human weaknesses rather than technical vulnerabilities.  

Pen Testing is a comprehensive security testing approach that involves identifying vulnerabilities in an organisation’s infrastructure, systems, and applications, such as web application penetration testing. It includes testing the security controls that protect the network, servers, and applications against attacks. 

Penetration testing is also a different service from Vulnerability Scanning 

In contrast, Social Engineering tests focus on identifying how employees respond to specific situations, such as phishing emails or phone calls, to test the organisation’s security awareness and identify areas that require improvement. The primary goal of a Social Engineering test is to determine whether employees are following security policies and procedures and are aware of the risks associated with certain activities. 

There are some risks that clients may face when applying for Social Engineering Services. To mitigate these risks, it’s important for clients to choose a reputable and experienced provider for their Social Engineering Penetration Testing.  

The provider should have strict rules of engagement and work with the client to ensure that the testing is conducted in a safe and controlled manner, minimises the risk to target people and their organisation, and is compliant with local laws and regulations. The provider should also work with the client to define well-defined objectives and adapt the methodology and output to meet the client’s requirements. 

No, social engineering is not just about phishing attacks. While phishing is one of the most common types of social engineering attacks, social engineering techniques encompass a wide range of vectors that attackers can use to manipulate human behavior for malicious purposes. 

Social engineering attacks can also include tactics such as pretexting, baiting, quid pro quo, and tailgating. Pretexting involves creating a false identity or pretext to gain access to sensitive information. Baiting involves leaving a physical item, such as a USB drive, in a public place in the hope that someone will pick it up and plug it into their computer. Quid pro quo involves offering a benefit in exchange for sensitive information. Tailgating involves following someone into a restricted area without proper authorisation. 

In essence, social engineering attacks rely on the manipulation of human psychology and behavior to trick individuals into divulging sensitive information, taking an action that could compromise security, or granting access to restricted areas. 

Penetration testing can help prevent social engineering attacks by identifying vulnerabilities in an organisation’s security controls and processes that attackers can exploit. By conducting a simulated attack on an organisation’s people, processes, and technology, penetration testing can highlight areas where an organisation’s security controls are weak or ineffective. 

For example, penetration testing services can identify vulnerabilities in an organisation’s technology infrastructure, such as unpatched software, weak passwords, or unsecured network access points, that attackers could use to gain access to sensitive data or systems. It can also evaluate an organisation’s security policies and procedures to determine if they are effective in mitigating social engineering attacks, such as phishing emails or phone calls. 

Additionally, penetration testing can raise awareness among employees about the dangers of social engineering attacks and how to identify and report suspicious activity. By training employees to recognise and report phishing emails, for example, an organisation can reduce the risk of successful attacks. 

The duration of a social engineering test can vary depending on the scope and complexity of the test. It can range from a few days to several weeks or even months, depending on the size of the organisation and the level of detail required.  

The initial scoping phase, where the scope and objectives of the test are defined, can take several days to a week. The testing phase, where social engineering attacks are conducted, can take several days to a few weeks.  

The final report preparation can take several days to a few weeks, depending on the level of detail required in the report. The test’s duration is usually agreed upon by the testing provider and the client during the scoping phase. 

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