What is social engineering and how does it work?

Sebastian Berumen
December 11, 2023

What is social engineering and how does it work?

Social engineering is a technique used by cybercriminals to exploit the trust of individuals to gain access to confidential information. They can execute social engineering through various methods, such as via email, phone calls, or even in person.

One of the biggest dangers of social engineering is that it often relies on human psychology rather than technical vulnerabilities. This makes it difficult to protect yourself from social engineering attacks.

The different methods of social engineering

There are many methods of social engineering, but some of the most common include phishing, spear phishing, and vishing.

  • Phishing is an attack where the cybercriminal emails a victim that appears to be from a legitimate source, such as a bank or credit card company. The email will usually contain a link that leads to a website where the victim enters their login credentials. Once the victim enters their information, the cybercriminal can access their account and steal their data.
  • Spear phishing is like phishing, but instead of sending emails to large numbers of people, the cybercriminal sends them to specific individuals or organisations. The goal of spear phishing is to gain sensitive information from the target individual or organisation.
  • Vishing is a technique that uses voice messages instead of emails to deliver phishing attacks. They often target vishing attacks on businesses rather than individual users. The attacker will call the business and pose as an IT support technician or another employee to gain access to confidential information.

The consequences of a social engineering attack

In social engineering, the consequences can be serious. A successful social engineering attack can cause the theft of sensitive information, such as login credentials, credit card numbers, and contact information. Cybercriminals can use this information to commit identity theft or financial fraud.

In addition, social engineering attacks can also install malware on a victim’s computer or get access to networks and systems. This can allow the attacker to steal sensitive data or take control of the system.

Social engineering attacks can also have a financial cost for businesses. Sometimes, businesses have had to pay ransomware demands to regain access to their data. In other cases, businesses have lost revenue due to stolen customer data.

The consequences of a social engineering attack can be significant, so it is important to be aware of the risks and take steps to protect yourself from these attacks.

How to spot a social engineering attempt

One of the best ways to protect yourself from social engineering attacks is to be aware of how they work and how to spot them. Some common signs that you may be the target of a social engineering attack include:

  1. sudden changes in your normal behaviour, such as logging in to your account from an unfamiliar device or location
  2. unexpected emails or phone calls from people you don’t know
  3. emails or phone calls that request personal information such as login credentials or credit card numbers
  4. emails with attachments that ask you to enable macros before opening them
  5. unsolicited messages asking for help with computer problems
  6. requests for money from someone you don’t know

What to do if you fall victim to a social engineering attack

If you fall victim to a social engineering attack, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself:

  1. Report the attack to your IT department immediately.
  2. Change your passwords and enable two-factor authentication.
  3. Install antivirus software and keep it up to date.
  4. Be vigilant about how you interact with email and phone calls and be sceptical of unsolicited messages.
  5. If you think you may have been the target of a social engineering attack, take steps to secure your computer and contact your IT department for help.

The best advice we can give you is to always remain vigilant. Always think before giving out any information. If you’re unsure, ask an IT professional in your organisation. Don’t be afraid to report something suspicious. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

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