The technique of using deception and manipulation to gain sufficient knowledge to dupe an unwary individual, employee or company into revealing personal information has the potential to be one of the biggest security threats in 2013 according to a security expert.
Gartner Australia research director, Rob McMillan, who is due to speak at the analyst firm's annual Symposium on the Gold Coast next week, told Computerworld Australia that social engineering has emerged over the last four years as a growing threat, especially for non-IT professionals who do not understand the techniques used by scammers.
For example, the long running Windows Event Viewer scam involves telemarketers calling people, telling them they have a virus and requesting the recipient's authority to run a Windows program called Event Viewer in order to fix 'so-called' bugs in the operating system. Other callers claim they can remove the virus for a fee and ask for people's credit card details.
According to research from Sophos, scammers have called people posing as a member of their company's IT department and named the person's boss in order to gain their trust.
"If you want to break into an organisation you would research that organisation and identify a few individuals that you want to target, than research them," McMillan said. "The reason why this is important is the need for stronger education and depth of understanding for non-security professionals who have access to important resources."
Turning to the subject of how businesses protect customer data with the need to increase revenue, he said that big data should be factored into security measures.
"The thing about big data is that it is harder to get the value out of your information and to protect everything when this mass of information becomes large in volume and deep in complexity," he said.
"It's like your bedroom or garage -- if you walk in the place and there is stuff strewn everywhere it does get more difficult to find things eventually."
According to McMillian, IT executives need to understand where the data resides, what the data means and organising it correctly so they can extract value out of the data.
"More importantly from a security perspective you need to know how to protect it," he said.
"If you think about payment card industry [PCI] compliance, you've got obligations to protect any of the data that falls under that regime," he said.
He added that PCI compliance will be much easier if the organisation can confine all of the credit card information in a restricted area such as a couple of secure databases.