Cybersecurity: The art of social engineering


By Ben Tagoe

Social engineering is a deceptive technique of manipulating or influencing individuals or organizations to get access to sensitive information, such as personal information, user credentials, financial or confidential information. It exploits psychological and emotional factors to gain unauthorized access or obtain valuable information.

Below are some common types of social engineering attacks:

Phishing Attacks: This is the most common, with this, attackers send fraudulent emails or links that seem legitimate from the real source but intends to steal sensitive information such as credit card details and login credentials. These emails normally encourage users to input their personal information at a malicious website that is almost identical to the legitimate one, in terms of looks and some functionalities. The main aim here is to deceive the target into clicking on malicious links or providing personal and/or confidential information.

Spear Phishing: Unlike phishing, which targets a vast number of people or groups, spear phishing is highly personalized and targets specific individuals or companies. Attackers conduct some research on targets to gather personal information to make their attacks less obvious.

Vishing (Voice Phishing): This approach involves phishing through phone calls. The attacker mostly pretends to be a bank, a government agency, or a supplier demanding personal or financial information.

Smishing (SMS Phishing): Smishing is a type of phishing attack that involves sending text messages instead of emails. These messages usually appear to originate from a trusted organization or institution containing a link to a malicious website or asking for personal information of the target.

Pretexting: With Pretexting, an attacker obtains critical information through a series of systematic and thought-out crafted lies. This usually involves the perpetrator impersonating someone in authority or someone the victim trusts, pretending to need sensitive information to perform an important and crucial task.

Baiting: Like phishing, involves offering something appealing to the victim in return for login credentials or sensitive information. The bait appears in various forms, both digital, such as a free download of a movie or software updates, and physical, such as a corporate flash drive labeled “Confidential”. These may contain malware.

Quid Pro Quo: Like baiting, in quid pro quo attacks, the target is offered a service in exchange for information instead of an object or a thing. For instance, attackers might pose as technical support representatives, offering to resolve a computer issue in exchange for login credentials.

Tailgating: Also called piggybacking, it occurs when an authorized person is followed by an attacker into a secure area, relying on their cunningness and lack of suspicion. Once inside, the attacker may gain access to sensitive information or facilities.

Watering Hole: With this attack the attacker targets a specific group of end users to compromise by infecting websites they usually visit. The main aim is to get access to the user’s workplace network by infecting their computer.

Dumpster Diving: This involves digging through trash bins to find documents that contain confidential information that can be used in further attacks, such as bank statements, printed emails, or contracts.

Reverse Social Engineering: Is a type of social engineering attack where the victim is manipulated into approaching the attacker instead of the other way round. The attacker might set up a scenario in which the victim believes they need help, and the attacker helps while extracting information.

Prevention and Protection

  1. Training and updating employees regularly on social engineering techniques and how to identify them.
  2. Put in place strict verification measures for all access to sensitive information.
  3. Put in place measures like spam filters, anti-phishing tools, and security software to detect and stop malicious activities
  4. Establish and enforce strong security policies and procedures.
  5. Always be prepared to respond to social engineering attacks, including having plans and actions to mitigate damage and ways of recovery.
  6. Be careful and mindful about giving out personal or sensitive information, especially on the internet.
  7. Verify the identity of individuals or requests, especially if they seem unusual or unexpected.
  8. Educate yourself about social engineering tactics.
  9. The Use of two-factor authentication (2FA) to create an additional layer of security.
  10. Always be vigilant and up to date with the latest social engineering techniques.


Social engineering is a sophisticated technique of cyberattack that is based mainly on human manipulation and error. Understanding and mitigating these risks requires awareness, vigilance, and comprehensive security strategies. By identifying these techniques used by social engineers, individuals and organizations can put in place measures to better protect themselves against these cunning and deceptive practices.

In the coming weeks I will delve deep into each of these common types of social engineering attacks so please stay tuned.

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