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How to protect against social engineering.

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Here’s why this kind of “cyber” threat is so uniquely dangerous

October is Cyber Awareness Month, which means discussions can easily turn to technical topics: IT vulnerabilities, encryption technologies, wireless protocols and the like. But there’s at least one critical cybersecurity risk that has very little, if anything, to do with technology: social engineering.

What's social engineering? Social engineering refers to a criminal's ability to use purely human vulnerabilities to commit or further crimes. Here are some example scenarios:

  • An identity thief uses stolen information to convince a credit card customer service representative to open another card in the victim's name.
  • A phishing email, sent pretending to be a financial institution asking for account confirmation through a link.
  • A fraudster calling someone, pretending to be a credit card company representative, IRS official or bill collector and requesting additional information.

Each of the above examples has social engineering in it because the person, himself or herself, is a vulnerability. Essentially, social engineering is a way of hacking people by tricking them. Protecting against this most-human of personal-data threats falls into 2 categories:

1. Be careful about what information you're putting out into the world. The less information thieves have to go by, the more difficult it may be for them to try a social engineering trick. Protective steps include things like:

  • Shredding documents
  • Thinking before clicking or pressing "Send" or "Submit"
  • Strong password protection
  • Not revealing too much personal information online

2. Be careful about threats that may come your way. It's also critical to be aware of and prepared for social engineering attempts. Protective steps may include:

  • Being very cautious clicking on emailed links
  • Refraining from providing personal or identifying information over the phone
  • Trusting your gut if something looks suspicious — social engineers may even resort to things like leaving a portable, virus-infected drive in a public place where those who see it may be curious enough to plug it into their computers.

Bottom line: In this month of cybersecurity awareness, don’t lose sight of the simple security risks that are more human in nature..

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