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Episode 61: How to Mitigate Social Engineering Attacks

In this episode, we explore the various tactics used by malicious actors to manipulate individuals and organizations, and provide practical tips to safeguard against these attacks. From educating your team members to implementing strong security measures, join us to learn how to effectively protect yourself and your organization from social engineering threats


Section Overview: In this section, the hosts introduce themselves and discuss the topic of social engineering.

What is Social Engineering?

  • Social engineering is the art of tricking or convincing someone to provide information or perform certain actions.
  • It can involve manipulating people to achieve specific goals, such as gaining access to sensitive areas or obtaining confidential information.
  • Examples of social engineering include physically interacting with individuals, like tailgating into a building, or using email phishing techniques.

02:06 The Effectiveness of Social Engineering

Section Overview: This section highlights how social engineering has become more effective than traditional hacking methods.

Evolution of Attacks

  • Traditional hacking methods like launching Metasploit against systems have been replaced by social engineering tactics.
  • Sending deceptive emails and tricking people into taking actions has proven to be highly effective for attackers.
  • Social engineering attacks are often successful because they exploit human vulnerabilities rather than technical weaknesses.

Path of Least Resistance

  • Attackers choose the path of least resistance when targeting organizations.
  • Even if an organization has strong security controls in place, social engineering can bypass these measures by exploiting human behavior.
  • Users are now on the front lines of defense and need to be aware of potential threats and how to mitigate them.

04:09 User Awareness and Training

Section Overview: This section discusses the importance of user awareness and training in combating social engineering attacks.

User Expectations

  • There is an expectation that users should have some level of awareness about potential threats.
  • However, it can be challenging for users to spot sophisticated social engineering attempts that may not be within their comfort zone.

Awareness vs Training

  • Awareness and training are two separate aspects when it comes to user education.
  • Awareness involves understanding the threats and knowing how to identify them.
  • Training focuses on practical skills, such as recognizing and responding to social engineering attempts.

Role of Security Practitioners

  • Security practitioners play a crucial role in training users on identifying and mitigating social engineering attacks.
  • By providing both awareness and training, security practitioners can empower users to become effective defenders against social engineering tactics.


Social engineering is the art of tricking or manipulating individuals to obtain information or perform actions. It has become a highly effective method for attackers due to its exploitation of human vulnerabilities. User awareness and training are essential in combating social engineering attacks, with security practitioners playing a vital role in educating users about potential threats and providing practical skills to mitigate these risks.

5:50 The Importance of Separating Training and Awareness

Section Overview: In this section, the speaker emphasizes the importance of separating training and awareness when it comes to cybersecurity. While they can be combined to some extent from an execution perspective, they are fundamentally different concepts.

Training and Awareness Should Be Separate

  • Combining training and awareness can be a disservice as they are different concepts.
  • Organizations often send out phishing emails as part of their training program, but users should not expect every suspicious email to lead to a training landing page.
  • Users have different learning styles, so training should be adaptable to cater to a wide audience.

Investing in Comprehensive Training Programs

  • Many organizations opt for easy solutions or minimal effort when it comes to security training.
  • Invest in accurate, quality training that touches on a variety of topics for a variety of roles
  • Some organizations invest in various formats such as webinars, in-person sessions, or tailored trainings for high-risk staff members.

6:56 Building Security Culture through Awareness and Training

Section Overview: This section highlights the importance of building a strong security culture within organizations through awareness campaigns and comprehensive training programs. Organizations with enhanced understanding of threats tend to be better equipped against social engineering attacks.

Mitigating Social Engineering Attacks through Security Culture

  • Organizations with an enhanced understanding of threats are better equipped to mitigate social engineering attacks.
  • Distributing training across different mediums and conducting various awareness campaigns helps build up security culture.
  • Successful organizations invest in different formats like one-on-one sessions, webinars, and addressing personal security topics.

Providing Information and Tools for Employees

  • Employers have a responsibility to provide employees with the necessary information and tools for their job.
  • Implementing features like reporting buttons for suspicious activities enhances security measures.

10:44 Technical Measures for Enhancing Security

Section Overview: This section discusses the technical measures that organizations can implement to enhance their security posture. The focus is on providing users with a technical way to report suspicious activities.

Implementing Report a Phish Buttons and Technical Solutions

  • Having a report a phish button provides users with a technical means to report suspicious activities.
  • Organizations should consider implementing technical solutions that facilitate reporting and enhance security measures.

11:20 Mitigating Social Engineering Attacks – Secondary Authentication and Conditional Access

Section Overview: In this section, the speakers discuss ways to mitigate social engineering attacks through secondary authentication and conditional access.

Implementing Secondary Authentication

  • Secondary authentication, such as multi-factor authentication (MFA), is crucial for securing sensitive data and accounts.
  • The level of control over authentication should be proportional to the riskiness or sensitivity of the system or data.
  • Thoroughly implementing MFA is essential, as many companies claim to have MFA but may have exceptions or incomplete implementation.

Conditional Access

  • Conditional access plays a significant role in enhancing security by controlling where and when authentication occurs.
  • Regularly auditing MFA implementation and ensuring strong MFA measures are in place can help prevent social engineering attacks.
  • Least privileged access should be implemented, restricting certain groups of users to specific systems, accounts, and functionality required for their job.

14:21 Least Privilege and Zero Trust Approach

Section Overview: The speakers discuss the importance of adopting a least privilege approach and zero trust principles to enhance security.

Least Privilege Approach

  • Implementing least privilege means granting users only the necessary access rights for their job roles.
  • Help desk personnel should not have privileges to reset domain admin credentials; different levels of access should be assigned accordingly.
  • Tiering user accounts based on their level of access helps prevent unauthorized escalation of privileges.

Zero Trust Principles

  • Applying zero trust principles involves thoroughly assessing potential threats through threat modeling.
  • Understanding what accounts an individual has access to and what actions they can perform with those accounts is crucial in preventing social engineering attacks.
  • Accidental violation of least privilege can occur when using built-in groups like “domain users” for assigning security permissions. This practice should be avoided.

16:45 Misuse and Overprivileged Assignment

Section Overview: The discussion focuses on the misuse and accidental issues of overprivileged assignment in Azure AD (now Entra) and Microsoft 365. Granting users access to applications without considering their actual need can increase the attack surface.

Misuse of Overprivileged Assignment

  • Granting everyone access to an application without considering individual needs can lead to unnecessary privileges.
  • This increases the attack surface and potential risks for the organization.

Threat Modeling

  • Organizations should conduct threat modeling exercises by simulating attack scenarios based on public breaches and available information.
  • By playing out these scenarios, organizations can assess the impact of potential attacks and identify vulnerabilities.
  • Preemptive threat modeling helps mitigate social engineering attacks by understanding the potential consequences and securing sensitive accounts.

Security Culture and Tabletop Exercises

  • A positive security culture is essential for effective threat modeling.
  • Some organizations fear that failure or poor performance during tabletop exercises reflects negatively on their security organization, but this mindset should be changed.
  • Tabletop exercises are not meant to be punitive but rather provide opportunities for improvement.
  • Identifying gaps in security controls through pen tests, tabletop exercises, or incident response simulations allows organizations to address weaknesses before they are exploited.

20:11 Defense in Depth Approach

Section Overview: The concept of defense in depth is discussed as a comprehensive strategy for mitigating social engineering attacks. It emphasizes the importance of layered controls and redundancy to prevent a single point of failure.

Defense in Depth Strategy

  • Defense in depth involves implementing multiple layers of security controls instead of relying on a single control or user awareness alone.
  • The goal is to prevent social engineering attacks from compromising the entire organization if one control fails.

Building Redundancy into Systems

  • Security strategies should be designed with redundancy, similar to layers of an onion.
  • Redundancy ensures that if one control or system fails, the overall security of the environment remains intact.

Importance of Threat Modeling

  • Implementing a defense in depth approach requires thorough threat modeling and understanding potential vulnerabilities.
  • Threat modeling helps identify areas where additional controls or redundancies are needed to strengthen the overall security posture.

22:22 Defense and Attack Scenarios

Section Overview: The speaker discusses the importance of considering different attack scenarios and potential defense measures.

Stepping through a typical attack scenario

  • Start from the beginning with social engineering, such as phishing attempts.
  • Consider what happens if email filtering fails and the malicious email lands in the user’s inbox.
  • Explore additional protection measures like Microsoft’s Safe Links.
  • Discuss potential failures at each step, such as users clicking on malicious links or entering their credentials.
  • Address possible attacks like stealing team sessions or man-in-the-middle attacks.
  • Emphasize the need to evaluate defenses at every stage of an attack.

Using frameworks for evaluation

  • Mention the usefulness of the MITRE ATT&CK framework for assessing security measures.
  • Highlight that expensive third-party tabletop exercises are not necessary; internal evaluations can be done using available resources.
  • Suggest combining tabletop scenarios with the MITRE ATT&CK framework to identify gaps and weaknesses in defenses.
  • Recommend tools like Atomic Red Team for hands-on keyboard testing of detection and response.

25:05 No Such Thing as 100% Secure

Section Overview: The speaker emphasizes that achieving 100% security is not realistic and highlights the importance of resilience and preparedness.

No product provides complete coverage

  • Acknowledge that no single product can offer 100% coverage across the entire MITRE ATT&CK framework.
  • Recognize that even with comprehensive security measures in place, there will always be vulnerabilities or weaknesses.

Importance of resiliency and redundancy

  • Stress the significance of building resilience into defenses by incorporating redundancy and layered security measures.
  • Emphasize that maintaining IT operations, system updates, patching, etc., is crucial alongside implementing security measures.

26:39 Conclusion and Call to Action

Section Overview: The speaker concludes the discussion and encourages viewers to share, like, and subscribe. They also mention the importance of continuous improvement in cybersecurity.

Continuous improvement in cybersecurity

  • Highlight that even mature organizations with advanced cybersecurity programs still have room for improvement.
  • Mention that penetration tests often reveal findings, indicating areas for enhancement.
  • Emphasize the need for ongoing efforts to identify gaps, strengthen defenses, and adapt to evolving threats.

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