3.6.2 Social Engineering & Malicious Code

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1 Social Engineering


Learn It: What is Social Engineering?

  • We have briefly covered what social engineering is in the previous topic, but we will look at this in more detail. Essentially it is the art of manipulating people so that they give up confidential information.
  • People are often the weakest point in security systems, social engineering focuses on people rather than on technology, as the weak point in any security system. There are many different ways to manipulate people to surrender their confidential information or data.
  • There are many threats to network security. Most target the computers and communications software, but many target far weaker links: the people who use them.
  • A study in 2015 found that human error was the main root cause of over 52% of all security breaches to networks.
  • The biggest problems were failure to follow general policies and procedures, general carelessness and a lack of knowledge of threats.
  • Some of the methods used to breach network security need no knowledge of programming or computers.
  • These are low-tech con-tricks, referred to as social engineering, aimed at manipulating vulnerable people into disclosing their personal information.

Social Engineering includes the following techniques:

  • Blagging (Pretexting).
  • Phishing.
  • Pharming.
  • Shouldering (Shoulder Surfing).

Learn It: Blagging

Blagging.png Blagging or Pretexting

Blagging - Is the act of creating and using an invented scenario to engage a targeted
victim in a manner that increases the chance that the victim will divulge information
or perform actions that would be unlikely in ordinary circumstances.
  • Blagging: This is sometimes called pretexting and can be done face-to-face, by telephone or by computer.
  • The criminal invents a scenario to try to get the victim to divulge sensitive data or information, for example pretending to be a charity or an official such as a police officer, bank employee or an insurance claims investigator.
  • To help prevent blagging, the company or organisation should make sure that they provide security training to their staff, so that they don't fall for these tricks.

Try It: Blagging

  • Q1: Explain with an example what is meant by Blagging?

Learn It: Phishing

Phishing.png Phishing

Phishing - Is a technique of fraudulently obtaining private information, often
using email or SMS.
  • The term Phishing comes from fishing - Bait is spread across the Internet in the hope that people will take a bite.
  • Phishing: Is when criminals send emails or texts to people claiming to be from a well-known business, (e.g. a bank or online retailer).
  • The emails often contain links to spoof versions of the company’s website. They request that the user update their personal information (e.g. password or bank account details). When the user inputs this data into the website they hand it all over to the criminals, who can then access their genuine account.
  • You should always beware of links in emails or texts. The email is not usually addressed to you personally and often contains spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • Sometimes emails may contain a threat that something bad is going to happen if you don't click on the link, for example, your account will be closed down in two days' time.

Phishing emails can often be recognised by the following:

  • Urgency - They want you to respond quickly, without thinking, for example to supply your bank details before the account is suspended.
  • Careless use of language - They often contain spelling and grammatical errors and careless writing style.
  • Impersonality - You may not be addressed personally, but only as Dear Customer. However, as the criminals become more sophisticated they are able to find your personal details from various sources such as social media.
  • False Links - You may be asked to click on a link which leads to a website controlled by the criminals.
  • Attachments - Sometimes you may be asked to open programs or documents sent with the email; these attachments may contain malware.

Below is an example of a Phishing Email Phishing_Email.png

Try It: Phishing Email

  • Q2: Suppose that you have just received the email shown above, state at least three signs that would alert you to the fact that this might be a phishing email?

Learn It: Pharming

Pharming.png Pharming

Pharming - Is a cyber attack technique intended to redirect a website's traffic to an
unsafe or fake website.
  • Pharming redirects web traffic to fake sites. The attacker will place code on your hard drive or on the network server itself.
  • When you type in a genuine website address, pharming redirects you to a fake/bogus website and you may be asked to give personal or sensitive information.
  • Pharming works by changing the hosts file on the victim's computer by exploiting a vulnerability in the Domain Name Service (DNS) server software.
  • The DNS servers are responsible for translating Internet names into their real IP addresses.

To prevent Pharming users should:

  • Check that the HTTP address of the site is the one you intended to visit.
  • Check that there is a secure connection (HTTPS) if you have to enter sensitive information.
  • Check the site's security certificates.
  • Install the latest security patches.
  • Install Antivirus Software.

Try It: Pharming

  • Q3: What is Pharming?

Learn It: Shouldering (Shoulder Surfing)

Shouldering.png Shouldering

Shouldering - Is observing a person's private information over the shoulder.
e.g. Cashpoint machine PIN number.
  • Most security risks are usually remote theft, but there are other ways to gain unauthorised access to passwords or sensitive information.
  • Shouldering or Shoulder Surfing refers to using direct observation techniques to gain information such as passwords or security data.
  • For example, looking over someone's shoulder while they are typing in their ATM PIN number or computer password.
  • To prevent shoulder surfing you should shield the keypad from view by using your body or cupping your hand over the keypad. When working on a laptop or mobile tablet device, keep your back to a wall with no open sides and extra care should be taken when entering a password.

Shouldering can occur in the following ways:

  • Someone in an office watching others entering passwords.
  • Someone watching as they enter their PIN at a cashpoint machine (ATM).
  • An employee at a shop or petrol station watching as a PIN is being entered.
  • Criminals using binoculars or closed circuit television to watch from a distance or record users entering sensitive information.

Try It: Shouldering

  • Q4: Explain what is meant by Shouldering?

2 Malicious Code

Learn It: What is Malicious Code?


  • We have briefly covered what malicious code is in the previous topic, but we will look at this in more detail. Essentially MALicious softWARE (Mal WARE) is installed on someone’s device without their knowledge or consent.
  • Security is about keeping your computer and the files, programs and data stored on it safe from a number of hazzards.
  • These hazzards come in the form of malware, hackers, blagging, phishing, pharming, hardware and software faults.
  • Other people using the network can also be one of the greatest risks of all.
  • Malicious code is the term used to describe any code in any part of a software system or script that is intended to cause undesired effects, security breaches or damage to a system.
  • Malicious code is an application security threat that cannot be efficiently controlled by conventional antivirus software alone.


Malware - Is a term used to describe a variety of hostile or instrusive programs or
software. Viruses, Worms, Trojans (Trojan Horse), Spyware and Adware and are all
types of malware, although there are others.

Malware Software is designed to:

  • Disrupt the functioning of a computer system.
  • Gain unauthorised access to a computer system.
  • Gather other information from the users without their knowledge.

Types of Malware include the following:

  • Computer Virus.
  • Worms.
  • Trojans (Trojan Horse).
  • Spyware.
  • Adware.

Learn It: Computer Virus

Viruses.png Viruses

Computer Viruses - Are self-replicating pieces of code that can damage data or software.
They are often spread via email attachments or removable media such as USB memory sticks.
  • A virus is a program that is installed on a computer without your knowledge or permission with the purpose of doing harm.
  • They attach themselves (by copying themselves) to certain files, e.g. .exe files and autorun scripts.
  • Users spread them by copying infected files & activate them by opening infected files.
  • Viruses are often spread through email attachments or instant messaging services. you may be invited to open a funny image, greeting card, audio or video files.
  • They may also be spread through files, programs or games that you download from the Internet or by loading an infected file from a memory stick or a CD/DVD.
  • Some virues are just annoying and don't do any damage, but others will delete or change system files so that they become corrupted or the computer becomes unusable.
  • Some viruses fill up the hard disk, so that your computer runs very slowly or becomes unresponsive.

Try It: Viruses

  • Q5: Can a CD or DVD containing games software, bought new from a reputable retailer, contain a virus? Why is this unlikely?

Learn It: Worms

Worms.png Worms

Worms - A computer worm is a standalone malware computer program that replicates itself
in order to spread to other computers.
  • Worms are like viruses, but they self-replicate without any user help, meaning they can spread very quickly.
  • They exploit weaknesses in network security.
  • Often, it uses a computer network to spread itself, relying on security failures on the target computer to access it.
  • Worms almost always cause at least some harm to the network, even if only by consuming bandwidth, whereas viruses almost always corrupt or modify files on a targeted computer.
  • Many worms are designed only to spread, and do not attempt to change the systems they pass through.
  • However, as the Morris worm and Mydoom showed, even these "payload-free" worms can cause major disruption by increasing network traffic and other unintended effects.
  • The motives for trojans may vary, for example, some may give unauthorised access to that computer, some may crash the computer, spread malware across the network, corrupt data, reformat disks or access sensitive information.

Learn It: Trojans (Trojan Horse)

Trojans.png Trojans

Trojans - Are legitimate programs developed with the intention of hiding malicious code
within. Since they are largely legitimate, they are often not recognised as malware.
  • Trojan horse is named after the famous Ancient Greek story of the Trojan Horse, is a program that disguised itself as legitimate software.
  • Unlike viruses & worms, trojans don’t replicate themselves, users install them not realising they have a hidden purpose.
  • Trojans can be employed by cyber-thieves and hackers trying to gain access to users' systems.
  • Users are typically tricked by some form of social engineering into loading and executing trojans on their systems.

Learn It: Spyware

Spyware.png Spyware

Spyware - Covertly obtains sensitive data, such as credit card numbers and passwords,
transmitting the data to a hacker across the Internet.
  • Spyware is software that gathers information about a person or organisation without their knowledge.
  • It is often used to track and store users' movements on the Internet through the use of tracking cookies.
  • Some spyware may change computer settings, making unauthorised changes in web browser settings or changes to software settings.
  • Spyware can also be used to collect personal information such as logins or bank account details.
  • The use of the term spyware has declined more recently, as the practice of tracking users' visits to different websites is used by many major websites and data mining companies and is not illegal.

Learn It: Adware

Adware.png Adware

Adware - Downloads unwanted Internet adverts, often observing your online behaviour
in order to target specific adverts.
  • Adware analyses which Internet sites a user visits and then presents adverts for products which the user is likely to be interested in.
  • Adware, or advertising-supported software, is software that generates revenue for its developer by automatically generating online advertisements in the user interface of the software or on a screen presented to the user during the installation process.
  • The software may generate two types of revenue: one is for the display of the advertisement and another on a pay-per-click basis, if the user clicks on the advertisement.
  • The software may implement advertisements in a variety of ways, including a static box display, a banner display, full screen, a video, pop-up advert in some other form.
  • Adware is also sometimes described as malware and anti-adware software is available.
  • Although most adware operates legally and some adware manufacturers have even sued antivirus companies for blocking adware.

Learn It: Other Forms of Malware

Ransomware.png Ransomware

  • Ransomware is a type of malware from cryptovirology that threatens to publish the victim's data or block access to it unless a ransom is paid.
  • While some simple ransomware may lock the system in a way which is not difficult for a knowledgeable person to reverse, more advanced malware uses a technique called cryptoviral extortion, in which it encrypts the victim's files, making them inaccessible, and demands a ransom payment to decrypt them.
  • Ransomware attacks are typically carried out using a Trojan that is disguised as a legitimate file that the user is tricked into downloading or opening as an email attachment.

Rootkit.png Rootkits

  • A rootkit is a collection of computer software, typically malicious, designed to enable access to a computer or an area of its software that is not otherwise allowed and often masks its existence or the existence of other software.
  • The term rootkit is a concatenation of root and the word kit.
  • Rootkits allows an unauthorised user to gain full control over a computer, including the host operating system, to avoid detection.

Try It: Malware Table

Copy and complete the following malware table giving an explanation of each and stating the precautions that should be taken to protect a computer system: Malware_Table.png

Badge It: Exam Questions

Silver - Answer the following questions:

  1. Define the term phishing? (1 Mark)
  2. Describe two ways that it is often possible to detect a phishing email? (2 Marks)

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Badge It: Exam Questions

Gold - Answer the following questions:

  1. Describe the term social engineering? (3 Marks)
  2. Briefly explain the four techniques that are used in social engineering? (4 Marks)

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Badge It: Exam Questions

Platinum - Answer the following questions:

  1. Describe one other way in which a criminal may obtain personal information about someone without their consent or knowledge? (4 Marks)
  2. In the context of cyber security, what is a trojan horse? (2 Marks)
  3. Describe the purpose and function of spyware? (2 Marks)
  4. What is adware and is it dangerous to your computer? (2 Marks)

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