Cyber Security Tip ST04-014: Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks

Cyber Security Tip ST04-014
Avoiding Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks

Do not give sensitive information to anyone unless you are sure that they
are indeed who they claim to be and that they should have access to the

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.

What is a phishing attack?

Phishing is a form of social engineering. Phishing attacks use email or
malicious  websites  to  solicit  personal  information by posing as a
trustworthy organization. For example, an attacker may send email seemingly
from a reputable credit card company or financial institution that requests
account information, often suggesting that there is a problem. When users
respond with the requested information, attackers can use it to gain access
to the accounts.

Phishing attacks may also appear to come from other types of organizations,
such as charities. Attackers often take advantage of current events and
certain times of the year, such as
* natural disasters (e.g., Hurricane Katrina, Indonesian tsunami)
* epidemics and health scares (e.g., H1N1)
* economic concerns (e.g., IRS scams)
* major political elections
* holidays

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 (see Protecting Your Privacy for more information).
* 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
* 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, including network administrators. 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 unexplainable 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 (see Preventing and Responding
to Identity Theft for more information).
* Consider reporting the attack to the police, and file a report with the
Federal Trade Commission (

Author: Mindi McDowell

Produced 2004 by US-CERT, a government organization.

Note: This tip was previously published and is being re-distributed to increase awareness.

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Über saigkill
openSUSE Ambassador, openSUSE Marketing Team, Weekly News Team, openFATE Screening Team and BuildService.

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