Top tips is a weekly column where we highlight what’s trending in the tech world and list ways to explore these trends. This week we’re looking at four ways you can protect yourself from increasingly advanced social engineering attacks.

We humans are a weird bunch, aren’t we? For as long as humans have existed, we’ve looked for ways to dupe our brethren for personal gain, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it, too. Of course, this doesn’t mean everyone you meet is secretly concocting devious schemes to manipulate you into giving up your secrets. But, these malicious actors do exist, and they are fairly widespread on the internet. However, what makes social engineering especially interesting is that it is psychological in nature, and victims are tricked into willingly sharing sensitive data with a threat actor. 

With the advancements we’re seeing in AI, voice cloning, and deepfake technology, these attacks are only going to get more and more difficult to tell from legitimate communication. So here are four tips on how you can protect yourself from increasingly convincing social engineering attacks.

1. Implement threat awareness programs

Since social engineering always involves manipulating someone into willingly giving up sensitive information, it is critical to ensure that you are investing in mandatory, organization-wide training programs where members of your organization are trained on the various techniques threat actors use to carry out their attacks. Basic threat awareness can mean the difference between keeping your critical data secure or potentially exposing it to a breach; all it takes is one weak link, a single lapse of judgment, or misplaced trust.

Training programs can help eliminate any weak links and greatly reduce the chance that someone from your organization jeopardizes your sensitive data due to ignorance.

2. Always verify any suspicious communication

Since social engineering attacks involve an element of psychological manipulation, exercising good judgment and even common sense can go a long way in helping you avoid falling victim. Make sure you’re always questioning the validity of any communication you receive. If something feels off, it probably is; and even if it isn’t the case, there’s no harm in double-checking.

 For example, no junior employee is ever going to receive a WhatsApp message from the CEO of the organization asking for money. Sure, this example is pretty obviously an attempt at social engineering, but the point still stands.

But on the flip-side, some of these attempts can be very compelling. There are several cases where voice cloning and phishing messages have been used to trick people into revealing sensitive information or authorizing large financial transfers. One of the first well-documented examples of such an attack is a case where a fraudster used an AI voice clone to scam a CEO out of USD 243,000.

3. Be selective about the data you share online

Make sure you’re not sharing too much information online. The data you share can be used against you. The more you share about yourself, the easier it is for a malicious actor to create more convincing schemes that are likely to trick you into sharing sensitive information.

4. Use AI tools to detect suspicious activity

We’ve discussed how AI is being implemented to make social engineering attempts more convincing. But thankfully, on the other hand, AI-enabled tools can greatly aid you when it comes to detecting social engineering attempts. While not completely foolproof, organizations can implement ML algorithms that are trained to analyze any suspicious communication for telltale signs of social engineering. 

Cyberthreat awareness is the best defense against social engineering attacks

The recent advancements we’re seeing in social engineering attacks are a perfect example of how far cyberthreat techniques have come; and as AI tools become more accessible, we’re going to see an increase in social engineering attempts that are also extremely convincing. Improved cyberthreat awareness is our best weapon against such attacks and we must make sure we’re doing everything we can to stay one step ahead of these malicious actors.