Everything you need to know about Reverse Social Engineering


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Reverse Social Engineering is a social engineering attack that has the same objective as a typical social engineering attack. However, this type of attack follows a different approach. This is a person-person attack where the attacker makes direct contact with the victim and compels them into revealing sensitive information. Follow our article to read more about reverse socuak engineering.

What is Reverse Social Engineering ?

In reverse social engineering the attacker will create contact with the victim via emails, or other social media platforms.

In addition, the attacker can use various schemes and also pretend to be skilled security personnel or a benefactor to trick them into providing information or access to their network. Though this method might seem antiquated, it has proven to be highly effective, especially in cases where the victim’s computer system shows signs of being compromised. Reverse Social Engineering attack usually comes in the following forms:

  • First, the attacker will create a need for a technical assistant.
  • After that, they will disguise as a support service that is providing help to the victim.

Let’s give an example so you can understand better. Supposing Trudy wants to perform a reverse engineering attack on Alice and Bob’s system, both of which handle sensitive information. To do this, Trudy will compromise both Alice and Bob’s systems, then Trudy might go to their desk and offer to help them. While trying to help them, Trudy might request passwords, which she intends to use later.

How Does Reverse Engineering Work?

Supposing you click on a phishing link (sent by an attacker who intends to contact you) and you download the malicious software that is capable of affecting your system. You might be contacted by the attacker via email pretending to be security personnel, who tries to convince you that he can help you resolve the issues with your system at a pocket-friendly price – or even for free.

After they have gained access to your system, the attacker fixes the system errors or issues and will also create a back door at the same time. This is to keep track of your internet activities and steal sensitive information. In some cases, the attacker won’t establish contact with the victim at the beginning, but will trick the target into contacting them. This will create a higher level of trust.

  • If the victim was the one who contacted the attacker first, this reduces the doubt of the attacker’s authenticity.
  • This increases trust in the attacker.

What Lead to Reverse Social Engineering?

The success of a reverse social engineering attack depends on these two factors. One of them is the lack of security awareness, which is common among individual users and the system. Humans are the weakest link of the security chain. Many organizations have put in place strict security policies that restrict users from disclosing sensitive information like password, username, account number, OTP, transaction details, and many more.

However, many users still don’t understand the importance of these security policies. Most users usually avoid using some key security measures like scanning unknown devices, avoid clicking an anonymous email, attachments and links, using multi-factor authentication, and other different security precautions. In most cases, sensitive information is given out to attackers thinking the request was made by an authority like a government agency, bosses, and many more.

Additional Information

When attackers pretend to be someone of authority, they can succeed in intimidating the victims into releasing sensitive information. Also, most victims are not aware of how to deal with or respond to situations when they realize that their network or system has been compromised. They tend to fall victim to reverse social engineering. Most attackers understood these psychological attributes and take advantage of them.

Poor Planning and Implementation of Security Protocols

Another factor that leads to reverse engineering attacks is poor planning and implementation of security protocols. This mostly applies to small organizations that do not have good security measures in place. In an organization, proper security measures need to be put in place to mitigate this attack. However, most organizations understand the risk of a security breach, but not all are ready to spend on advanced layer-in-depth security solutions.

What Lead to Reverse Social Engineering? – Poor Planning and Implementation

Some organizations assume that their current security measures are flawless and sufficient to prevent reverse social engineering attacks. Organizations should note that even if they put in place advanced security solutions and technologies, they still can’t assume everything is working efficiently without a proper test. Besides, most organizations rely on asking insiders to test the performance of the defences and security procedures. This is considered a recipe for disaster.

As an organization that deals with sensitive information, there is a high risk of a security breach and you need more robust and advanced security procedures and policies. Because of that, proper security and authentication measures mechanisms are essential. Aside from that, it’s important to test run the security procedures and plans regularly. A holistic method to the testing of these procedures is essential.

  • Most organizations fail to create realistic security procedures to make employees aware of security mitigations, risks, and procedures.
  • Also, some organizations create advanced security procedures but fail to implement them.

How to Mitigate Reverse Social Engineering

The cause of social engineering is a result of a lack of operational procedures and poor security awareness. Because of this, a user can panic and react to the situation in an inappropriate manner. This can involve reaching out to non-authentic tech support, which can lead to a successful reverse social engineering attack. So individuals or organizations must put in place several methods to mitigate reverse social engineering attacks.

Even if you have installed the best security products on your network, you still can’t assume that your networks and systems are completely secure from malicious hackers. Additionally, you might also think you have nothing that attackers can steal, but that is not true – everyone has something that can be targeted by malicious hackers. So you should understand that security is everyone’s responsibility.

Proper Cybersecurity Training and Awareness

As mentioned, the human is the weakest link in the security chain. They are easily manipulated by attackers to carry out malicious activities. Cybersecurity awareness training is a way of providing formal security education to your personnel about the different security threats and the company’s procedures and policies for addressing them. When you engage your employees in cybersecurity training, you provide them with the latest happenings in the cyber world.

While it is not enough to be aware of these threats, you need to educate your employee on how to recognize different attack types as well as what they need to do when they notice that something unusual is happening in the network or on their system. In addition to that, you should encourage your employees on how to behave while at work.

  • Organizations can educate their employees by organizing seminars, cybersecurity conferences or meetups, and more.
  • They can also ensure employees know what they are/not allowed to do with their work devices.

Using Distinct Internal Identifiers and Implementing Call-back Procedure

Most organizations make use of employee numbers, which is what many reverse social engineering will be asked to provide to authenticate themselves as real staff. However, these numbers are common and simple to get from real employees. Also, a hacker can create a list of personnel numbers. So organizations would make use of a distinct identifier for their network/computer activities. Additionally, they should separate support function from personnel function.

Another way to mitigate reverse social engineering attacks is by implementing a call-back procedure. This will let an employee authenticate a caller’s identity by calling the person back on their personal mobile number as registered in the organization’s telephone record. Though this process might create additional stress, it can help to prevent a reverse engineering attack. With this procedure, it will be difficult to compromise the organization’s network.

The Use of Technical Security Features

Most operating systems usually come with several technical capabilities, which can reduce the effects of reverse social engineering. These technical features can let the users detect when their system was last used and from where. You can also implement an automatic expiration of login passwords. With this, the system password will expire after some time, thereby preventing a security breach as users will have to change their passwords regularly.

Identifying Computer Support Analyst

It’s important that an employee knows who to meet for technical support. This is because they won’t need to respond to anonymous emails or postings. With this, they won’t be vulnerable to false help. Additionally, they will also be able to inform their support personnel when there is an unusual occurrence. A diligent support analyst will then inform the rest of the organization about a possible attack.

Reverse Social Engineering vs. Social Engineering

As mentioned, reverse social engineering is an example of a social engineering attack. However, the techniques for both attacks differ. While social engineering requires the attacker to go to the victim for information, in reverse engineering, the victim willingly requests help from the attacker. This may sound impossible, but the aim of the attacker in reverse social engineering is to make the victim believe that they need help.

Also, due to the nature of reverse engineering, the attacker will be able to get more information when compared to the normal social engineering attacks. This is because the attacker is legitimate in the victim’s eye. This differs from social engineering, where the hardest part is gaining the trust of the victim. However, reverse social engineering is more difficult to carry out successfully.

Summary and Conclusion of Reverse Social Engineering

On a final note, we all know that common sense is the best way to prevent reverse engineering attacks. However, this is not the same for every computer user in an organization. Reverse social engineering usually exploits security weaknesses and poor implementation of security procedures that are overlooked by an organization, and these have resulted in serious breaches in an organizational network or system.

In addition, when an organization is developing security plans and procedures, it is important that they consider the knowledge of the employees about the procedures. This is because the procedures and plans will be ineffective if the employees are not aware of them. So organizations should ensure to educate their employees on the latest cyber threats and how to address them according to the company’s policies.


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