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What Causes Social Engineering Hacks to Succeed?

Today, hacks and malware are everywhere. There is no tech stack a business can build that will be completely safe from the risk of hackers. Part of the reason for this is the social engineering trend. While your firewalls and network monitoring may be secure, your network must connect to the outside for the purpose of communication and data access. And through communication, hackers can gain access by manipulating employees. Emails, chat messages, and phone calls among other communication methods can all be used to socially engineer an employee into allowing malware or a live hacker to connect with your network.

Human error, including socially engineered errors, make up for over 90 percent of all corporate data breaches. But what makes social engineering hacks so effective? Each company has it’s own level of vulnerability depending on staff alertness, training, and top-to-bottom data security procedures. Any gap in your company’s defenses against social engineering can and likely will eventually be exploited.

What causes social engineering hacks to succeed and how can you stop them? Let’s take a closer look.


Casual Trust

The first and best reason why social engineering works is because most people interact with trust. When an employee gets a friendly or instructive email, they take it at face value. That face value is what allows social engineering to infiltrate. Your employees will, without training or intervention, naturally open and answer every email they receive. They will check out attachments, follow links, and sometimes even download packages.

The normal human response to a phishing or corporate espionage message is to answer it. It’s no wonder that social engineering is so effective across the glove. Without preparation, most employees will fall for a well-constructed phishing message most of the time.


Thoughtless Curiosity

The second leading cause of social hacking success is curiosity. To be frank, most modern professionals are not completely without cybersecurity training. Many in the Millennial and Gen Z generations grew up with admonitions against answering unknown emails, winning prizes we didn’t sign up for, or sending money to fake Nigerian Princes. So yes, many of your employees know better than to answer a phishing email.

But curiosity sometimes gets the better of us. For employees who are generally aware that phishing is a risk but are not trained or instructed in a security protocol, some phishing messages get through simply because they manage to pique our curiosity. A prize, an interesting title, or sometimes just garbled jargon too crazy to be real cause an employee to open a phishing email and carelessly click. A customer service request with an unexpected attachment might get opened without thinking.

Thoughtless curiosity unhemmed by protocols can be even more dangerous than ignorance.


Lack of Staff Training

It’s a simple matter of fact that businesses with cybersecurity training for the staff are far less likely to be hacked via social engineering. Providing training increases your staff cybersecurity behaviors in two ways. First, training replaces ignorance with knowledge. Rumors, guesses, and old information are what most employees approach cybersecurity with.

When your team is trained in cybersecurity, including how to detect and avoid social engineering hacks, they will know what to do when a suspicious email arrives and will be less tempted to default to instinct or curiosity.

The second benefit is to your company culture. Staff cybersecurity training lets the team know that you are serious about security protocols. You’re saying “make sure this door stays locked” instead of overlooking the brick placed in the doorway for smoke breaks.  You’re letting staff know that there are rewards and consequences to be had for cybersecurity vigilance, and that security goes beyond a “do what you feel” attitude.


Training Without Vigilance

Unfortunately, training isn’t the end-all-be-all of staff cybersecurity. Putting your staff through training gives them information and procols and lets them know you’re serious about data security. But the forgetting curve means that as much as 80% of the detailed information will be forgotten within a week unless it becomes part of daily and weekly routine.

This is how training without a company culture of vigilance can result in social hacking success. Let’s say you have a team member who went through cybersecurity training last year, but no one ever reports a phishing email or bothers to check for malware in the year since. Security slacks off, the training is forgotten, and a phishing email might just get answered.

But a company culture of vigilance keeps everyone on their toes. Keep talking about cybersecurity, go over the phishing detection signs during meetings, and provide real rewards for employees who successfully detect and prevent an invasion attempt. Cybersecurity drills and penetration testing are also a great way to keep everyone active and watching for malware even when the hackers are quiet.


Incomplete Enforcement

Let’s say you have a well-trained staff and a company culture that encourages security vigilance. One of the remaining gaps in your social engineering defenses might be incomplete security-measure enforcement. Many companies develop blind spots where cybersecurity is less enforced for one reason or another. IT, for example, is often considered outside of cybersecurity rules because they write the cybersecurity rules. But technicians and admins are still human and need to be on the look-out for phishing and other infiltration attempts just as everyone else in the company.

Make sure that every department, device, and employee are subject to cybersecurity both on paper and in practice.


C-Suite Above Security Policy

Finally, get the C-suite involved. Cybersecurity to protect company data must be a top-to-bottom effort. If your execs are above the security policy, then they become the gap in your defenses. Hackers have more to gain from “whaling” (phishing for c-suite big fish) and from tricking employees into getting the C-suite involved in a hacking attempt.

There are two reasons why your C-suite must also be held to company cybersecurity standards. First, what the C-suite does reflects on the rest of the company and shapes the company culture. If they’re above protocol, they are saying they’re above employees and above security. If they adhere to protocol, the company is unified and more secure.

The second reason is that C-suite is essential to making the company bullet-proof to social hacks. Otherwise, the wall is “low enough to jump over” for hackers who know how to target their effforts at the top of a company instead of at the lower-level employees.

Social engineering hacks are all about fooling the target into careless clicking. If your team has been trained, encouraged, and rewarded for vigilance against social hacking attempts, there will be no careless clicking or malware infections in your company future. Contact us today to learn more about how to train your team, build a secure company culture, and perfect your data security infrastructure.