Social Engineering


Social engineering is a term that first emerged in the social sciences and is akin to the direct intervention of scientists in human society. The term ‘social engineer’ was first coined in 1894 by Van Marken in order to highlight the idea that, for handling human problems, professionals were needed. 

Social engineering refers to the manipulation of people in order to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information, resources, or systems. It is a technique often employed by cybercriminals and malicious individuals to exploit human psychology and trick individuals into revealing confidential data or performing actions that can compromise security.

Rather than directly targeting technical vulnerabilities, social engineering attacks exploit the vulnerabilities inherent in human behavior, such as trust, curiosity, or fear. The goal is to deceive individuals into divulging confidential information, granting access to restricted areas, or carrying out actions that can be detrimental to an organization’s security.

What makes social engineering dangerous is that it relies on human error, rather than vulnerabilities in software and operating systems. Mistakes made by legitimate users are much less predictable, making them harder to identify and thwart than malware-based intrusions. 

How Are Your Clients Handling Social Engineering? Chances Are, Not Well

Impact of Social Engineering in India 

Social engineering is basically cheating, which is defined under Section 415 of the Indian Penal Code (1860). It says that when a person with an intent to deceive another person dishonestly or fraudulently induces any person to deliver any property or retain any property or makes such person do or omits to do any act which he would not have done unless deceived, he thereby causes harm or may cause harm to such person in body, mind, reputation, or property. 

Principles of Social Engineering 

It relies on various principles to manipulate and deceive individuals. These principles are rooted in human psychology and behavior. Therefore, here are some key principles commonly used in social engineering:  
1. Authority: People tend to comply with requests from authoritative figures. Attackers may pose as figures of authority, such as managers, supervisors, or IT personnel, to gain trust and convince individuals to divulge sensitive information or perform actions they normally wouldn’t.  

2. Trust: Building trust is essential for successful social engineering attacks. Attackers may exploit the inherent trust individuals place in certain roles or organizations. By impersonating a trusted person or organization, they can manipulate individuals into revealing confidential data or granting access.

3. Reciprocity: Humans have a tendency to reciprocate when someone does something for them. Attackers may offer a small favor, assistance, or gift to create a sense of indebtedness. This can increase the likelihood of compliance with subsequent requests, even if they involve divulging sensitive information.  

4. Curiosity: Humans are naturally curious, and attackers exploit this trait by presenting enticing or intriguing information or offers. By piquing curiosity, they can entice individuals to click on links, download files, or provide information they otherwise wouldn’t.  

5. Fear and Intimidation: Leveraging fear and intimidation can coerce individuals into compliance. Attackers may create scenarios that induce fear, such as threatening legal consequences, financial loss, or reputational damage, to manipulate individuals into sharing sensitive data or performing requested actions.  

6. Lack of Awareness: Exploiting a lack of security awareness or knowledge is a common tactic. Attackers target individuals who are unaware of social engineering techniques or fail to recognize the warning signs of suspicious requests, increasing the likelihood of success.  

Understanding these principles can help individuals and organizations better recognize and defend against social engineering attacks. By promoting awareness, skepticism, and critical thinking, individuals can be better equipped to identify and resist manipulation attempts.

Types of Social Engineering 

There are several types of social engineering techniques that attackers employ to manipulate individuals and exploit their trust. Here are some common types of social engineering: 
1. Phishing: Phishing is a widespread social engineering technique where attackers send fraudulent emails, text messages, or instant messages that appear to be from legitimate sources. These messages often contain enticing or urgent requests to trick recipients into providing sensitive information, such as login credentials, credit card details, or personal data.  

2. Spear Phishing: Spear phishing is a targeted form of phishing that involves personalized messages directed at specific individuals or organizations. Attackers gather information about their targets to create convincing and tailored messages, increasing the likelihood of success.  

3. Whaling: Whaling, also known as CEO fraud, is a specialized form of spear phishing that targets high-level executives or individuals with significant authority within an organization. Attackers impersonate executives, typically through email, and request sensitive information or authorize fraudulent transactions.  

4. Pretexting: Pretexting involves creating a false pretext or scenario to deceive individuals into sharing confidential information or performing actions that compromise security. Attackers may pose as legitimate individuals, such as employees, vendors, or authorities, and manipulate their targets into divulging sensitive data or granting access.  

5. Baiting: Baiting attacks use enticing offers or rewards to lure victims into taking specific actions. Attackers may leave physical devices, such as infected USB drives, in public places or send enticing links or downloads. When victims take the bait, they unknowingly compromise their security by introducing malware or providing access to their systems.  

It’s important to stay vigilant, exercise caution, and be aware of these social engineering techniques to protect against potential attacks. Regular security awareness training and the implementation of robust security protocols can significantly mitigate the risk of falling victim to social engineering tactics. 

Dangers and Impacts of Social Engineering 

What makes social engineering attacks particularly dangerous is that not everyone needs to be targeted. Just one successfully manipulated user could divulge enough information to trigger massive attacks and severe damage to the organization.  

Impact Of Social Engineering Attacks on Businesses | SiteLock

Relying on the element of human error, these attacks lure unsuspecting victims into downloading malware, sharing credentials, transferring money, clicking on fraudulent ads or spam links, purchasing products, etc. Successful social engineering attacks like these could lead to identity theft, malware attacks, ransomware attacks, reputational damage, data theft, service disruption, and unauthorized access, among others. 

Social Engineering Attack Prevention  

Given that humans are the weak links in security, one of the best ways to prevent social engineering attacks  is to provide continuous education to users, employees, including high-level executives and privileged administrators, and other key stakeholders. 
They must be made aware of best practices in secure communications, account management, network usage, and general cyber hygiene. They must know which emails to open, attachments to download, and links to click. They must also exercise extreme caution while accepting offers, regardless of how enticing or convincing they may seem. 
Some other tips for social engineering attack prevention are:

1. Implementation of strong passwords and multi-factor authentication.  
2. Regularly updating everything – hardware, software,
anti-malware, anti-virus, third-party components, etc.  
3. Using a comprehensive and   intelligent security solution like AppTrana  that helps identify security weaknesses and secure them before attackers get wind of them, monitor traffic to weed out malicious users, and ensure multi-layered defense against cyberattacks. 

Who are the main targets of social engineering attacks?  

The goal of every social engineering attack is to gain access to sensitive information such as bank accounts, company data, or Social Security numbers. The more access someone has to what criminals want, the more attractive that target becomes.   
Victims of social engineering attacks are most often:
1. High-worth individuals, high-profile employees, and high-level leaders- Criminals target people with high levels of access. That’s why CEO fraud is now a $12 billion scam. It’s always a good idea to set up fraud monitoring to alert you if anyone has gained access to your personal financial accounts. ‍  

2. Popular online personalities- People who share more personal information online are more likely to be targeted. If your spouse has 50k Instagram followers or your child is a top video game streamer, they could be targets.‍ 

3. Younger generations and employees who are uninformed about cybersecurity threats- One study revealed that 45% of millennial employees don’t know what phishing is, even though it’s the No.1 type of social engineering attack. To make matters worse, only 27% of companies provide social engineering awareness training.  

These groups aren’t the only ones who are targeted by scammers. The truth is that anyone can become the victim of a social engineering attack. 

3 Primary targets of social engineering attacks | Download Scientific  Diagram


Understanding the principles and various types of social engineering attacks is essential for individuals and organizations to protect themselves. By promoting security awareness, implementing preventive measures, and fostering a culture of skepticism, individuals can become better equipped to recognize and resist social engineering attempts.  

Combating social engineering requires a multi-layered approach that combines technical defenses, policies and procedures, and user education. By staying informed, practicing caution, and employing preventive measures, individuals and organizations can strengthen their defenses against social engineering attacks and safeguard their sensitive information and resources. 

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