Social engineering has advanced greatly over the years, using the latest technologies to cause significant damage. Different techniques are being used to deceive consumers into divulging sensitive information unwittingly. Some of the most common include phishing, vishing, and smashing.
These attempts have the same objectives and use similar tactics but different application methodologies. Being aware of these cyber crimes can help prevent them from being the cause of losing your valuables.
Here are some detailed explanations of phishing, vishing, and smishing and how they differ from each other.
What is phishing?
Phishing is one of the core social engineering exploits cybercriminals use to trick individuals into divulging sensitive information. The main method of obtaining this sensitive information is via email correspondence, impersonating a trusted organization.
Most commonly, social engineering fraudsters use financial institutions and sometimes even healthcare organizations. Successful phishing exploits generally result in hackers obtaining sensitive information such as credit card details, social security numbers, and/or online login details.
That information could either be sold at mass or used by hackers to obtain access to financial accounts. On the other hand, personal details obtained through this social engineering scheme can be used for identity theft. There is a wide variety of phishing techniques used by fraudsters, but they all usually have a common objective.
Common phishing techniques
Understanding the most common techniques used by social engineering fraudsters can shed some light on how to prevent phishing attacks and improve cybersecurity awareness. Every phishing attack begins with hackers conducting reconnaissance on potential targets, marking the most potentially profitable ones, and tailoring an exploit for each target group.
Fraudsters create a storyline that involves intimidating the targets into following their plan or convincing them to make a cybersecurity mistake. For example, some phishing attacks are successful because fraudsters make their targets feel like they’re not safe online.
The attacks could be requesting targets to change their password as it might have been compromised. Those targeted individuals might click on a link provided to change their password and divulge sensitive info on a duplicate website.
Vishing is exactly the same as phishing, but instead of using emails, social engineering fraudsters use voice call conversations. Although vishing is more common among individuals than organizations, some attacks use this tactic that succeeded against companies. With that in mind, it is important to be a proactive entrepreneur by spreading awareness and training employees about this social engineering tactic.
Fraudsters could impersonate trusted organizations or even government departments, including law enforcement agencies. These attacks use threatening messaging or persuasive language, depending on the objective and target background.
Vishing attacks also begin by conducting reconnaissance and then crafting the perfect story to obtain personal information. Most vishing attacks are successful due to voice communication, making the exploit seem more convincing and sincere.
Examples of vishing
Successful vishing attacks could include persuasive wording that makes targets feel like they are missing out. Fraudsters could pose as banks or service providers offering a better deal. The attackers will be very persuasive in their sales pitch, and if the target bites, they will ask to confirm a few details.
Unfortunately, the target will be divulging personal information to social engineering fraudsters. Some of the personal information obtained through this technique includes social security numbers, home addresses, and bank card numbers.
On the other hand, other vishing attacks could be threatening calls or voice messages. An attacker can impersonate law enforcement agencies threatening an arrest or seizing assets if the target does not return the call or answer all questions honestly. Out of fear, targets tend to unwittingly divulge sensitive information over this vishing attack.
How smishing works
A different version of these types of attacks is smishing. The word smishing is shorthand for SMS phishing. Subsequently, the same phishing techniques apply but only in the form of fraudulent SMS messages. Most smishing attacks are standardized and sent to a larger target group rather than being specified to an individual as phishing exploits do.
Smishing attackers conduct thorough reconnaissance and obtain the relevant contact numbers for their exploit. From there, they could either impersonate a trusted organization or government agency to get personal information.
Some smishing messages have a link that targets can click on and find an online form designed with the visual elements of the organization being impersonated. Other SMS exploits could request that you call back a specified number leading to a collaborated smishing/vishing attack.
Difference between these attacks
Phishing, vishing, and smishing use similar core social engineering tactics to trick individuals into believing fraudsters are legitimate organizations. The main difference between social engineering exploits is the means of carrying them out.
Phishing is implemented by sending emails and is the founding father of the other two schemes. From emails, social engineering spread out to SMS messaging and reached voice calls. In one way or another, some of these cybercrimes interconnect with one another.
For example, a smishing attack could involve phishing exploits or lead to a vishing scheme. All these attacks share a common life cycle roadmap which entails reconnaissance, pretexting, attacking, and an exit strategy to cover the perpetrator’s tracks and evade being traced.
Preventing social engineering exploits
Out of all social engineering exploits, phishing is significantly easier to prevent since there are tools that can help identify this scam. Using AI/ML technology, email security tools conduct a deep scan on each mail that comes through. Email security tools check the most common blindspots that humans might miss, such as domain authenticity.
Additionally, advanced cybersecurity tools also scan email attachments and embedded hyperlinks. This is done within seconds before an email appears in your inbox. When it pops up in your mailbox, the security tools would have scanned it thoroughly and flagged any suspicious correspondence. To prevent smishing and vishing, you just have to be more vigilant and upgrade yourself with the latest information in the industry. Do not be forced into a corner to divulge personal information over the phone or on a website.