In the world of information security, “social engineering” refers to a psychological attack rather than a technical attack. Attackers will use manipulative techniques to trick unsuspecting victims into divulging sensitive information or performing actions they wouldn’t normally do, such as clicking on a malicious link.
While social engineering attacks can be launched against individuals or organizations, political and social engineering has become increasingly common in recent years.
These attacks exploit the current political climate to polarize targets and damage reputations.
We’ll explore some political and social engineering examples and offer tips on protecting yourself from these attacks.
What is Political Social Engineering?
Social engineering is an influence campaign that seeks to exploit social divisions to achieve a specific political goal.
Foreign governments or other groups often launch these campaigns to destabilize democracies.
Attackers will use a variety of tactics to carry out political and social engineering attacks, including but not limited to the following:
- Disinformation (i.e., spreading false or misleading information)
- Smears (i.e., attempts to damage the reputation of an individual or organization)
- Harassment (i.e., targeted online attacks designed to intimidate or silence opponents)
- Doxing (i.e., publicizing private or sensitive information about an individual or organization)
Examples of Political Social Engineering Attacks
One of the best political and social engineering examples occurred during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.
As part of their effort to influence the election’s outcome, Russian intelligence agents used various social engineering tactics to target individuals associated with the Democratic Party.
Protecting Yourself from Political Social Engineering Attacks
Below are some tips that you can use to protect yourself from political and social engineering attacks:
Be skeptical of unsolicited communications
Be suspicious if you receive an email, text, or social media message from an unknown.
Attackers often pose as someone else to trick you into giving them sensitive information or clicking on a malicious link.
If something seems too good to be true, it probably is—don’t let curiosity get the best of you!
Verify before you share:
When presented with news or other information online, please take a moment to verify its accuracy before sharing it with others.
A simple Google search can often reveal whether or not something is true—if no credible sources are reporting on it, chances are it’s not worth your time (or your friends’ time).
Don’t take the bait
One key tactic that attackers use is attempting to trigger an emotional reaction in their targets (e.g., anger, fear, etc.).
They do this because they know that people are more likely to make rash decisions when emotional.
If you are worked up over something you read online, take a step back and breathe—you can always come back to it later when you’re thinking more clearly.
And remember: if something seems too good (or bad) to be true, it probably is!
Ways to Prevent Political Social Engineering Attacks
Be aware of social engineering attacks
There are four social engineering attacks: phishing, pretexting, baiting, and quid pro quo.
Phishing is when an attacker sends an email or text message that looks like it is from a trusted source to get the victim to click on a link or attachment.
Pretexting is when an attacker creates a false story to get the victim to disclose sensitive information.
Baiting is when an attacker leaves a USB drive or other media device containing malicious software in a public place to get someone to bring it into their organization.
Quid pro quo is when an attacker offers something to the victim in exchange for access to sensitive information.
Beware of Suspicious emails and links.
One of the most common ways social engineering attackers gain access to systems is by sending phishing emails.
These emails often look identical to trusted sources but contain malicious links or attachments.
If you receive an email from an unknown, don’t click on any links or open any attachments until you have verified that the email is legitimate.
Even if the email appears to be from a trusted source, you should still be cautious about clicking on links or opening attachments if you were not expecting the email.
Be cautious about disclosing personal information.
Attackers frequently use pretexting techniques to get victims to disclose sensitive information like passwords, credit card numbers, and Social Security numbers.
They may pose as customer service representatives. IT support staff or even law enforcement officials. Before you disclose any personal information, make sure that you verify the identity of the person who is requesting it.
Educate yourself about social engineering attacks.
The first step to preventing these attacks is to educate yourself about them.
Bad actors can manipulate information in many ways and must be aware of the different techniques they might use.
Once you know what you are searching for, you won’t fall victim to an attack.
Be skeptical of everything you see online.
In today’s world, it’s effortless to spread disinformation. That’s why you must be skeptical of everything you see online.
If something seems too good to be true or tries to provoke an emotional reaction, it’s worth looking at before you believe it.
Question your sources
Another essential thing to do is to question your sources. Be wary if you’re seeing something you don’t usually trust from the start or seeing something without any basis.
It’s always best to get your information from a reliable source that you trust.
Think before you share
We’ve all been guilty of sharing something without thinking about it first. But when it comes to the spread of disinformation, this can be a dangerous thing to do.
Before you share something on social media or with your friends and family, please take a moment to consider whether it’s accurate and whether you want to share it.
Be aware of the methods attackers use
Attackers often use standard methods such as phishing or pretexting to get the information they want.
They may also use more sophisticated methods such as malware or water-holing.
It is good to be aware of these methods so that you can be on the lookout for suspicious activity.
Only click on links from familiar sources.
If you receive an email from an unknown sender that contains a link, do not click on it.
Attackers often send phishing emails to get victims to click on malicious links.
If unsure whether an email is legitimate, you can contact the sender directly to verify its authenticity.
Be cautious about what information you share online
We live in a world where everyone connects through social media and other online platforms.
This gives attackers a wealth of information they can use to their advantage.
Be careful what information you share online, and only share personal information with trusted sources.
Keep your software up to date.
Software updates often contain security patches that can help protect you from vulnerabilities that attackers could exploit.
Be sure to install updates as soon as they are available and keep your software current.
Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication
Strong passwords and two-factor authentication can help protect your accounts from attackers.
Strong passwords should have at least eight characters with uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special symbols.
Two-level authentication adds an extra level of security by requiring you to enter one time password when logging into an account.
Be aware of the sites you visit and the information you share
One of the easiest ways to avoid falling victim to a political, social engineering attack is to be aware of the websites you visit and the information you share.
Be cautious of any site that asks for personal information, like your name, address, or Social Security number.
In addition, be wary of clicking on links from unknown they could contain malware or lead you to a phishing site.
Fact-check before you share anything online
Before sharing any article or information online, please take a few minutes to fact-check it first.
Several websites, such as Snopes and PolitiFact, debunk false information.
In addition, if you come across an article that seems biased or one-sided, look for other articles on the same topic from various news sources to get a more well-rounded view.
Be cautious of private messages and emails from unknown senders
Another way political and social engineers may try to attack you is through private messages and emails from unknown senders.
These messages may contain links that lead to malicious websites or attachments that install malware on your computer.
Do not open any links or attachments if you receive a message from an unknown.
In addition, be cautious of any message that tries to evoke an emotional response, as these are often used in phishing attacks.
Don’t tell personal information on the phone until you initiate the call
Political and social engineers may also try to obtain your personal information by calling you on the phone and pretending to be from a credible organization, such as your bank or credit card company.
They may say they need your personal information to verify your account or prevent fraud.
If you get a suspicious call, disconnect and call the organization back using a number you know is legitimate.
Stay up-to-date on current events and breaking news stories
You won’t fall victim to a political, social engineering attack if you are well-informed about current events and breaking news.
Attackers often use current events as bait to lure their victims into clicking on malicious links or giving out personal information.
You can quickly identify and protect yourself from these attacks by keeping up with the news.
Be aware of the signs of a social engineering attack. Politicians and government officials should be careful with suspicious emails, unexpected information requests, or money requests.
Do not respond to unsolicited emails or click on links in suspicious emails. If you are unsure about an email, contact the person or organization directly to confirm its authenticity.
Be cautious of unexpected requests for information or money. If you are asked to provide sensitive information or money, verify the request through a different channel before complying.
Keep your computer and mobile devices up-to-date with the latest security patches and anti-virus software.
This will help protect your devices from malware that could be used to facilitate a social engineering attack.
Report any suspicious activity to your IT team or security personnel. By reporting suspicious activity, you can help prevent an attack from happening in the first place.
In conclusion, political and social engineering is an attack that seeks to exploit societal divisions to achieve a specific political goal. Foreign governments or other groups often launch these campaigns to destabilize democracies.
Remember to be skeptical of unsolicited communications, verify before sharing anything online, and don’t take the bait if something seems too good (or bad).
Creating a plan to prevent political and social engineering attacks is essential.
This should include creating various teams with different roles in combating these types of threats. Educating employees on political and social engineering and spotting an attack is also essential.
Regular plan testing should be conducted to ensure that it is effective. Contact us for consulting services to learn more about protecting your organization from political and social engineering attacks.