Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks
Do not give sensitive information to anyone unless you are sure that
they are indeed who they claim to be and that they should have access
to the information.
What is a social engineering attack?
To launch a social engineering attack, an attacker uses human
interaction (social skills) to obtain or compromise information about
an organization or its computer systems. An attacker may seem
unassuming and respectable, possibly claiming to be a new employee,
repair person, or researcher and even offering credentials to support
that identity. However, by asking questions, he or she may be able to
piece together enough information to infiltrate an organization's
network. If an attacker is not able to gather enough information from
one source, he or she may contact another source within the same
organization and rely on the information from the first source to add
to his or her credibility.
What is a phishing attack?
Phishing is a form of social engineering. Phishing attacks use
email or malicious web sites to solicit personal, often financial,
information. Attackers may send email seemingly from a reputable
credit card company or financial institution that requests account
information, often suggesting that there is a problem. When users
respond with the requested information, attackers can use it to gain
access to the accounts.
How do you avoid being a victim?
- Be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls, visits, or email
messages from individuals asking about employees or other internal
information. If an unknown individual claims to be from a legitimate
organization, try to verify his or her identity directly with the
- Do not provide personal information or information about your
organization, including its structure or networks, unless you are
certain of a person's authority to have the information.
- Do not reveal personal or financial information in email, and do
not respond to email solicitations for this information. This includes
following links sent in email.
- Don't send sensitive information over the Internet before
checking a web site's security (see Protecting Your
Privacy for more information).
- Pay attention to the URL of a web site. Malicious web sites may
look identical to a legitimate site, but the URL may use a variation
in spelling or a different domain (e.g., .com vs. .net).
- If you are unsure whether an email request is legitimate, try to
verify it by contacting the company directly. Do not use contact
information provided on a web site connected to the request; instead, check
previous statements for contact information. Information about known
phishing attacks is also available online from groups such as the
Anti-Phishing Working Group (http://www.antiphishing.org/phishing_archive.html).
- Install and maintain anti-virus software, firewalls, and email
filters to reduce some of this traffic (see Understanding
Anti-Virus Software, and Reducing Spam
for more information).
What do you do if you think you are a victim?
- If you believe you might have revealed sensitive information about
your organization, report it to the appropriate people within the
organization, including network administrators. They can be alert for
any suspicious or unusual activity.
- If you believe your financial accounts may be compromised,
contact your financial institution immediately and close any accounts
that may have been compromised. Watch for any unexplainable charges to
- Consider reporting the attack to the police, and file a report
with the Federal Trade Commission (http://www.ftc.gov/).
Author: Mindi McDowell
July 28, 2004