Definition of social engineering

What is social engineering?

Social engineering is the act of exploiting human weaknesses to gain access to personal information and protected systems. Social engineering relies on the manipulation of individuals rather than hacking into computer systems to break into a target’s account.

Key points to remember

  • Social engineering is illegal.
  • Social engineering attacks can happen to an individual online or in person.
  • Identity theft is a social engineering attack.
  • There are many precautions you can take, from creating a two-step authentication system for your accounts to using a different password for each account.
  • There are many forms of social engineering attacks, but the most common is phishing.

Understanding social engineering

Social engineering refers to manipulating a target so that they forgo key information. In addition to stealing an individual’s identity or compromising a credit card or bank account, social engineering can be applied to obtain a company’s trade secrets or exploit national security.

For example, a woman can call the bank of a male victim, pose as his wife, call for an emergency and request access to her account. If the woman manages to socially manipulate the bank’s customer service representative by appealing to the representative’s empathic tendency, she may successfully gain access to the man’s account and steal his money.

Likewise, an attacker can contact the customer service of an email provider to obtain a password reset, which allows the attacker to control a target’s email account rather than hijack that account.

Prevent social engineering

Social engineering is difficult to prevent for potential targets. Precautions such as strong passwords and two-factor authentication for accounts can be used, but accounts can still be compromised by third parties with access to accounts, such as bank employees.

However, there are several ways people can reduce their risk. These include avoiding divulging confidential information, being careful when sharing information on social media, and not repeating your account passwords. Other ways to reduce hacking include using two-factor authentication, using false or hard-to-guess answers to account security questions, and keeping a close eye on accounts, especially financial accounts.

Set your spam filters to a high level to avoid unwanted messages, and never open an attachment without carefully examining what’s in it. And it’s always a wise decision to pay close attention to any emails that appear suspicious or unusual, even if they appear to be from someone or a company you know.

Social engineering tactics

Attackers often use surprisingly simple tactics in social engineering programs, like asking people for help. Another tactic is to exploit disaster victims by asking them to provide personally identifiable information such as maiden names, addresses, dates of birth and social security numbers of missing or deceased loved ones. Why? Because this information can then be used for identity theft.

Impersonating a tech support professional or delivery guy is easy to gain unauthorized access to an account, just like sending a seemingly legitimate email with a malicious attachment. Such emails are often sent to a work email address where people are less likely to be suspicious of an unknown sender.

Emails can be disguised to appear as if they came from a known sender when sent by a hacker. More elaborate tactics targeted at specific people may involve knowing their interests and then sending the target a link related to that interest. The link may contain malicious code that may steal personal information from their computers. Popular social engineering techniques include phishing, cat fishing, tailgating, and baiting.

If you’re not expecting a link or attachment from a friend or colleague, it might even be worth giving them a call or texting them to find out if they sent it to exclude a scammer. .

Types of social engineering attacks

There are many ways for hackers to create social engineering attacks, ranging from pretending to be a technical support professional offering to “fix” a bug in your computer to sending you a “friend” request. on your social network account. Here are three popular social engineering attacks.

Online baiting

Online baiting occurs when hackers send advertisements with links that look like opportunities for finding a job, making money, or appearing to provide useful information. When an unsuspecting person clicks the bait, malware infects their computer.


These scams take the form of text messages or emails masquerading as a bank or other financial institution, or even a government office, claiming you’ve broken a policy, forgot to pay your taxes, or asking you to change your password. . These scams are designed to instill fear or concern in the recipient and trick them into disclosing sensitive information.

These types of attacks trick unsuspecting individuals into providing personal information such as bank account numbers, social security numbers, and other sensitive information for the purpose of hacking into your financial accounts.

Physical interactions

Social engineering attacks don’t just happen online. Physical interactions can occur, such as someone pretending to work in your office and asking you to let them in because they “forgot the door code or their card key” and needs help.

Social engineering faq

What is the most common form of social engineering?

The most common form of social engineering is phishing used to obtain social security numbers, addresses, and other forms of personal information.

How common is social engineering?

Social engineering is extremely common, and hackers and crooks are increasingly sophisticated in their methods.

Is social engineering illegal?

Yes. Social engineering attacks are illegal and some forms, such as identity theft or breaking into a government facility, are considered serious crimes.

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James F. So