What Is Social Engineering and How Do You Stop It?

by | Mar 8, 2022

Social engineering has been gaining awareness in recent years, leaving many people wondering how to stop it. According to Purplesec’s 2021 report, an alarming 98% of cyber attacks rely on social engineering. 71% of attacks involve malware, most of those happening by email. It’s a standard method of attack that has affected most industries and has continued to grow in recent years.

What Is Social Engineering?

Social engineering is a type of attack that uses human behavior to steal sensitive information. Rather than acquiring it by force, the goal is to get people to freely provide it. By establishing trust, they set up the target in a way where their requests seem reasonable.

How Is Social Engineering Done?

Broadly speaking, social engineering is a multi-step process. The attacker will start by profiling the target and choosing the method of attack. The next step is getting in contact and establishing themselves as trustworthy. Once they have the desired information, they take it and cut off communication.

Why Is It Dangerous?

Unlike external threats, social engineering is dangerous because it targets people directly. The human factor is an ever-present vulnerability with cybersecurity. They can give information upfront or allow the attacker to bypass protection.

What Are Some Types of Social Engineering?

There are many types of social engineering that should be watched for.

Pretexting: Creating a believable scenario that establishes authority, need, and trust. Pretexting could be as upfront as someone claiming they need access to data or hardware for routine maintenance.

Phishing: Impersonating a well-known company through chat, email, or online ads. Phishing can involve linking to a fake landing page that imitates the actual website. From there, they may prompt the target to download a file with malware or to give their login details.

Vishing: Like phishing but done over the phone. The attacker may spoof their phone number to make it appear to be coming from an official support center. Vishing can involve asking for remote access to the target’s computer or account credentials.

Spam Emails: Most spam emails get filtered, but well-written ones can bypass that. They can involve other strategies, such as phishing. These emails usually encourage people to download malware or provide personal details.

Baiting: Something that’s tempting and easy to find. Baiting can be physical, such as a USB stick with a company logo. It can also be digital, such as a famous movie download. These may use malware that infects both the device, and anything connected via a network.

How Can You Spot a Social Engineering Attack?

It’s difficult to spot a social engineering attack because it can appear legitimate. Since these attacks use human factors like trust and authority, they often claim to be from credible entities. It’s a red flag when they ask for information already on file, or you get prompted to download an unexpected file.

Not all attacks have immediate consequences either. Backdoors are the second most used type of malware, which infects devices without your knowledge. After a while passes, it will activate.

Can Cybersecurity Help With Social Engineering?

Cybersecurity can help with some aspects of social engineering. Using multi-factor authentication will make leaked login credentials safer. Antivirus and anti-malware software will decrease the chance of your devices getting harmed. While there are many ways it protects you, it can’t always stop information or access already given.

How Can You Protect Yourself From Social Engineering?

Protecting yourself from social engineering requires extra caution. While it comes in a lot of forms, good email habits will prevent many attacks. A study by Social-Engineer suggests that 67% of people will give out their social security number, birth date, or employee count. Don’t give out sensitive data without validating the requester.

Based on ESET’s report, 74% of phishing emails include a Microsoft Windows executable file. They can disguise malware as routine documents such as Word, Excel, or PDF. If you download a file by accident, don’t click it, immediately delete it, then run an antivirus and malware scan.

Double-check links sent to you before clicking them, especially if the source is unverified. You can do this by hovering over the link text to see whether it leads you to the location claimed. When in doubt, type the website address rather than following a link.


Preparing for a social engineering attack is difficult. Some services can help you find vulnerabilities and areas to improve your security. ITonDemand’s Managed IT Security Solutions includes simulated phishing training. Combining knowledge with practice can help protect you from unexpected attacks.

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