Social engineering is the use of psychological tools such as deceit, misdirection, manipulation and flattery to elicit unauthorised information or access to systems. Social engineering is an increasingly common way for criminals to attack organisations as it does not always rely on cyber vulnerabilities but rather takes advantage of the weakest element in an organisation, human beings. People are susceptible to social engineering because these attacks exploit social norms and human nature, including reciprocity, curiosity, and pride. As we become increasingly connected - at work, at home and intertwining the two - the opportunities and impacts of social engineering are increasing.

At the same time, we have seen an increase in cybercrime-as-a-service, with organised criminal enterprises offering ransomware, DDoS, and espionage to hire. I believe that we will see more social-engineering-as-a-service over the course of 2017 and beyond. Organisations will increasingly be attacked via the individuals that work for them, who will be compromised via social engineering attacks on themselves and their networks (not just colleagues and peers, but spouses, children, and friends).

We have already seen this, to some extent, with Marcel Lehel Lazar, who went by the pseudonym ‘Guccifer’. He was sentenced to four years in prison on September 1 2016 for unauthorised access to a protected computer and aggravated identity theft. His high-profile victims included Sidney Blumenthal, a confidant to Hilary Clinton. In accessing Blumenthal’s emails, Lazar found that Clinton had used a private email address to correspond with her former political adviser and published the address online. This led to the revelation that Clinton had used this address and a private email server during her time as U.S Secretary of State. Lazar used Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) to gain access to the internet accounts of his victims. He found public information about his targets online and used that information to guess their passwords and security questions, which he has said “it was easy... easy for me, for everybody".

Looking forward, there will be more and more use of OSINT and social engineering by criminals. It is my expectation that these methods will also be increasingly used by organised criminals as a service for those who want to access or discredit others.

To hear more from Jessica on the cause and effect of social engineering, watch the on-demand Avecto webinar, The psychology of security: Stop social engineering attacks.