NewsFebruary 27, 2018 @ 9:35 AM

New Incident Response Study Reveals More Than Half of Attackers Use Social Engineering to Target Organizations

More than half of external attackers use social engineering as their point of entry into target organizations, a new study on incident response revealed.

According to F-Secure’s “Incident Response Report,” 52 percent of external attackers used social engineering to infiltrate target companies. The remaining 48 percent exploited technical weaknesses.

Social Engineering Attacks by the Numbers

The majority of social engineering instances occurred in targeted attacks, the study found. The financial, manufacturing, security and technology industries all experienced campaigns in which bad actors picked a target and went after it. In fact, some verticals, such as the gaming, public and service sectors, encountered only targeted campaigns.

Not all attacks were targeted, however. There were also opportunistic campaigns in which nefarious individuals struck simply because they saw an opportunity to do so. These attacks accounted for 45 percent of incident response investigations disclosed by the company’s security consultants.

F-Secure’s experts observed numerous subtypes of incidents. The most common subcategory was attacks in which threat actors abused a weakness in an organization’s internet infrastructure (21 percent). That’s just 1 percent higher than insider threats (20 percent), followed by malicious email attachments (18 percent), phishing/spear phishing (16 percent) and brute force (9 percent).

Security consultants also witnessed wide discrepancies in attackers’ progress. In 29 percent of cases, bad actors succeeded only in breaching the perimeter. Many others went further than that and capitalized on their headway by deploying malware (20 percent) and exfiltrating data (12 percent).

Room for Improvement in Incident Response

In total, 79 percent of these reported attacks were successful, while 13 percent were false positives resulting from “IT problems or other issues being misunderstood as security incidents by the reporting organization.”

F-Secure principal security consultant Tom Van de Wiele said he believes these findings reflect the challenge of figuring out whether an incident occurred. “Once an organization has the facts based on detection capabilities, and not rumors or assumptions, then the process can continue with the next step, which is usually containment and eradication,” he said, as quoted in an F-Secure blog post.

The authors of the report advised companies to invest in better detection capabilities, such as an endpoint detection and response solution. They also emphasized the importance of using threat intelligence to more quickly and efficiently respond to security incidents and eliminate false positives.

David Bisson

Contributing Editor

David Bisson is an infosec news junkie and security journalist. He works as Contributing Editor for Graham Cluley Security News and Associate Editor for Tripwire's "The State of Security" blog.