What is a social engineering attack?
In 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.
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 company. 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 website's security. Pay attention to the URL of a website. Malicious websites 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 website 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. Install and maintain anti-virus software, firewalls, and email filters to reduce some of this traffic. (See Understanding Firewalls, Understanding Anti-Virus Software, and Reducing Spam for more information.) Take advantage of any anti-phishing features offered by your email client and web browser.
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. 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 un-explainable charges to your account. Immediately change any passwords you might have revealed. If you used the same password for multiple resources, make sure to change it for each account, and do not use that password in the future. Watch for other signs of identity theft. Consider reporting the attack to the police, and file a report with the Federal Trade Commission.
Author US-CERT Publications
Phishing is the attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and, indirectly, money), often for malicious reasons, by disguising as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. The word is a neologism created as a homophone of fishing due to the similarity of using a bait in an attempt to catch a victim. Phishing is typically carried out by email spoofing or instant messaging, and it often directs users to enter personal information at a fake website, the look and feel of which are identical to the legitimate one and the only difference is the URL of the website in concern. Communications purporting to be from social web sites, auction sites, banks, online payment processors or IT administrators are often used to lure victims. Phishing emails may contain links to websites that are infected with malware. Phishing is an example of social engineering techniques used to deceive users, and exploits weaknesses in current web security. Attempts to deal with the growing number of reported phishing incidents include legislation, user training, public awareness, and technical security measures.