Human Hacking, Not Automated Attacks, Top Cyber Threat

Human hacking, also known as social engineering, has surpassed hardware and software vulnerabilities and is now the top cybersecurity threat, Computer Weekly reports:

Human hacking, also known as social engineering, has surpassed hardware and software vulnerabilities and is now the top cybersecurity threat.

[A]ttackers shifted away from automated exploits in 2015. Instead, attackers engaged people through email, social media and mobile apps to do the dirty work of infecting systems, stealing credentials and transferring funds.

 Researchers found that machine exploits were replaced by human exploitation, with attackers opting for attachment-based social engineering campaigns rather than purchasing expensive technical exploit kits.

 Across attacks of all sizes, threat actors used social engineering to trick people into doing things that once depended on malicious code.

What is Human Hacking?

Human hacking is a type of con during which, instead of trying to hack into a system, the hacker engages in old-fashioned espionage techniques that involve human interaction and prey on weaknesses in human psychology, such as helpfulness, curiosity—even greed. A human hacker may approach an access-controlled door carrying a number of packages and pretend to fumble for their key or access card; an unsuspecting employee, thinking they are being helpful to a co-worker, opens the door for the hacker. This technique is known in the industry as tailgaiting. Or, using the pretexting technique, the hacker may phone an employee, pose as a help desk worker, and attempt to get the employee to provide their system access credentials.

These simple techniques are surprisingly effective. TechTarget reports that a human hacker recently used pretexting to compromise the U.S. Department of Justice. The hacker phoned the DOJ, pretending to be a new employee who was having difficulty accessing the department’s web portal. The hacker was quickly provided with a token that granted him full access to the DOJ intranet. As a result, information on 20,000 FBI agents and 9,000 Department of Homeland Security employees was publicly leaked.

Other common human hacking techniques include:

  • Baiting takes advantage of human curiosity—or, in some cases, greed. The attacker puts a legitimate-looking and interesting label (such as “Employee Salary Report Q4”) on a malware-infected device, such as a USB drive, then leaves it in a place where someone will find it, such as a bathroom, a hallway, or an elevator. Then, the hacker simply waits for someone to pick up the device and insert it into their computer.
  • Phishing is a technique most Internet users have seen in action. The hacker (or phisher) sends an email that appears to be from a legitimate source, usually a bank or another business. The email requests that the receiver “verify” information by clicking on a link and warns of dire consequences, such as their account being deactivated, if the receiver does not do so. The link leads to a legitimate-looking but fraudulent website that requests personal information, such as online banking access credentials or even a debit card PIN.
  • Spear phishing is a more targeted form of phishing where a particular individual or organization is phished, as opposed to random mass attacks.
  • A Scareware scheme combines malware and human psychology. The con involves tricking victims into believing they have downloaded illegal content or that their computers have been infected with malware. The human hacker then offers the victim a “fix” in the form of a download – which is actually malware.

How Can Your Organization Prevent Human Hacking?

As with all cyber security issues, the best defense is a good offense. Continuum GRC recommends that organizations take a proactive approach to preventing human hacking, beginning with establishing a comprehensive cyber security policy and employee training program. If employees are aware of the types of cons human hackers run, they can learn to identify and report them before any damage is done. Continuum GRC offers the fastest ticket to policy and governance readiness in the business.

Additionally, organizations that conduct ongoing risk assessments and fix the gaps identified are on average a whopping 96% less likely to suffer a breach by hackers. Continuum GRC recommends organizations of any size implement a risk management program sooner than later when it may be too late.

Continuum GRC offers full-service and in-house risk assessment and risk management subscriptions helping companies all around the world sustain a proactive cyber security program. Continuum GRC is proactive cyber security®. Call 1-888-896-6207 to discuss your organization’s cyber security needs and find out how we can help you prevent human hacking.

Michael Peters