Social engineering remains one of the most effective techniques in the toolkit of a penetration tester. It exploits the human element, often considered the “weakest link” in the security chain. With the rise of increasingly sophisticated technology solutions, there has never been a better time to refocus on social engineering as a critical component of your security strategy.
What is Social Engineering?
In the realm of cybersecurity, social engineering refers to the psychological manipulation of individuals into divulging confidential information or performing specific actions that compromise security. Examples include phishing emails, pretexting, baiting, and tailgating.
In the field of web application penetration testing, these techniques could be used to manipulate an employee into revealing credentials that could compromise the application’s backend. This is why having secure code is just as crucial as training your staff on recognizing social engineering attempts.
Key Tools for Social Engineering
The Social Engineer’s Toolkit (SET)
The Social Engineer’s Toolkit is an open-source framework developed by TrustedSec that focuses on simulating social engineering attacks. Its modules include email phishing campaigns, credential harvesters, and malicious payload delivery, among others.
SET in Action
To give you a taste of how SET works, you could use it to send a phishing email that mimics an internal communication within a company. See a basic example in Figure 1 below:
After navigating through the text-based menu to select the email phishing option, you can craft an email with a malicious payload attached or embedded, which then gets sent to the target. A successful phish would result in the target unknowingly executing the malicious payload.
Cobalt Strike is another powerful framework designed for Adversary Simulations and Red Team Operations. While not strictly a social engineering tool, it offers functionalities like spear phishing and payload delivery which can be utilized in social engineering scenarios.
Cobalt Strike for Social Engineering
For instance, Cobalt Strike’s “Beacon” is a payload that can be delivered via a phishing email. Once executed, it gives the attacker a foothold into the network, allowing for lateral movement and further exploitation.
Why You Should Care
Even if you have a solid understanding of Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) and have deployed all necessary server-side security measures, neglecting to educate your team about the risks of social engineering can lead to a breach.
The role of social engineering in penetration testing serves as a potent reminder of the human factor in cybersecurity. Utilizing tools like SET and Cobalt Strike can provide invaluable insights into your organization’s vulnerabilities, allowing for a more robust defense strategy.
Don’t become the next victim of a breach! Schedule your penetration test today!