Cybercriminals around the globe are increasingly devising methods to deceive individuals and employees into interacting with malicious email attachments and links. These phishing schemes aim to obtain valuable company data or inflict damage upon organizations. Businesses are well aware of the risks and many actively educate their staff on new phishing scams and potential threats.
So, with proper training and education, how do these phishing schemes continue to succeed?
The answer is straightforward: Hackers have discovered the simplest way to obtain sensitive company information without relying on technical vulnerabilities, violence, threats, or personal contact. Instead, they exploit the fundamental principles of social engineering that prey on human emotions.
Basic Tricks and Correct Psychological Tactics in Cyber Attacks
#1 Turn fears against you
When victims perceive an imminent threat and believe that not taking action will lead to something terrible, the human sense of fear is triggered. Cybercriminals have discovered that by creating phishing emails that still panic or dread, they can lure victims into clicking for more information.
Consider this scenario: an email supposedly from a law firm regarding a court appearance, accompanied by an attached “court notice.” Similarly, an email allegedly from the IRS stating that the victim owes back taxes or is being audited, along with attached documents providing “details.” These two situations easily entice victims to click out of fear. Consequently, they unknowingly click on malicious links or download files, subsequently installing malware on their systems.
To win these cybersecurity mind games with hackers, you need to keep your cool. To guard against social engineering, you should always double-check the information, in this case, you will not fall for the bait.
This emotion has led many individuals to make irrational decisions. It gained notoriety as cybercriminals exploited it in inheritance scam emails, resulting in significant financial losses for victims worldwide. These perpetrators entice their targets with unrealistically priced offers and exploit seasonal celebrations to collect personal information, all while pretending to offer grand prizes. Such celebrations include the anniversaries of reputable companies, religious festivities, and more.
Another dangerous manifestation of greed is the free Internet. Although many people use public Wi-Fi, only a fraction of people are aware of the potential risks. An example of this is, do you think, can Wi-Fi owners see my Internet history? Yes, all data you transmit can be stored and used by the owner of the network. You can simply fix this on the technical side through VeePN, which encrypts the data. The owner of the network may have your data, but it will be impossible to read it.
#3 Cause impulsive actions
When analyzing various emails, including the one posing as Instagram, for my article, I noticed that attackers often aim to evoke multiple emotions to intensify the impact and increase the likelihood of action.
Cybercriminals exploit the emotion of impulse by utilizing tactics like setting unrealistic timelines or deadlines for action. For instance, the phishing email I received ended with the statement, “Your account will be deleted within 72 hours.” Additionally, cybercriminals plan their phishing emails to be sent at specific times of the day, month, or year when target victims are typically tired or carefree, further evoking impulsive responses.
Many cybercriminal manipulation strategies seek to force us to take action before we have thought it through. Logically, safeguarding emotional exploitation is one of the solutions to the problem. Another good practice is to give yourself more time. Step away from the problem for 10 minutes.
#4 Playing on familiar brands and faces
You might not consciously notice it, but you naturally trust familiar things or people, like service providers and those you know. That’s why cybercriminals often pretend to be authority figures or reputable organizations.
Additionally, cybercriminals establish trust through email by accurately disclosing information about the victim or claiming there’s a problem and offering to resolve it, even if there is no actual issue.
As you can see, all psychological hacks in cyber threats are aimed at our emotions. Anyone can get caught in a trap when they are tired, too busy, or simply relaxed. With VeePN you can prevent a significant portion of these vulnerabilities. Built-in AI algorithms warn of phishing if an email, message, or website looks suspicious.
#5 Personal connection
Developing a sense of trust is the most effective method to persuade a victim to lower their guard. Hackers may attempt to establish false relationships by creating fake social media profiles and gradually engaging with the target.
They may entrap a victim by sending deceitful job offers through LinkedIn or deceptive links via Facebook Messaging. Alternatively, they might take a shortcut by seizing control of a genuine conversation between two trusted parties.
Conversation hijacking transpires when hackers infiltrate email exchanges between individuals, sending harmful content while disguising themselves as the person the victim recently communicated with. These attacks exploit social engineering psychology, as they have a more profound impact on victims compared to workplace-based attempts.
Desire connects individuals across various scenarios: an employee seeking a higher income, a man gazing longingly at a pretty woman’s face, and a young person aspiring to immigrate for better economic opportunities.
However, desire is a primary source of poor judgment, which explains irrational thinking when confronted with desire-aligned situations—such as falling victim to phishing emails. Such fraud capitalizes on exploiting the desire to deceive unsuspecting individuals into taking harmful actions.
Email marketers have long understood the power of generating a sense of urgency to prompt users into action. Utilizing phrases like “Act Now” or “Offer Ends Tonight” triggers a psychological response known as FOMO: fear of missing out.
Unfortunately, hackers have also hopped on this urgency-driven bandwagon, exploiting the tendency of urgent messages to make victims react impulsively without much thought.
For instance, one common tactic employed by hackers is the business email compromise (BEC) attack. In this method, attackers either spoof or gain unauthorized access to a company’s email account and assume the identity of a “perceived authority,” such as a supervisor.
The objective is to deceive victims into believing that a higher-up within their organization urgently requires their assistance, compelling them to take immediate action. The “boss” may send terse messages requesting prompt completion of a form or an immediate payment. Nobody wants to anger their superior by causing undue delay, after all.
All psychological tricks of scammers are aimed at causing an emotional reaction in you. If they manage to touch some of your emotions (fear, greed, passionate desire), you will spend less time analyzing the situation.
You won’t check the source where the message came from, miss logical inconsistencies in the text, etc. That is, you don’t need to be quick to act, although work teaches us otherwise. In this case, you need to maintain an interval and spend time on analysis.