A 2022 survey with 12,025 respondents found that four out of ten global internet users have experienced cybercrime.
In the United States alone, 49 percent of the respondents have fallen victim to cyberattacks, making it the country with the second-highest cybercrime encounter rate.
Some of these cyberattacks may have been social engineering traps. Unfortunately, these tactics could be challenging to recognize if you aren’t aware of their characteristics.
This guide will help you bridge the knowledge gap by outlining the types of social engineering techniques. Whether you’re an individual or a business owner seeking ways to enhance cybersecurity, we will also provide safety measures to prevent such manipulations.
Defining Social Engineering
Social engineering refers to malicious activities through human interactions. It aims to psychologically manipulate victims into making security mistakes or sharing sensitive information.
The social engineering process generally involves four steps:
- Preparation: The hackers identify the victims, gather information, and select attack methods
- Hook: The hackers start engaging the targets by controlling the interactions
- Play: The hackers execute the attack
- Closing: The hackers disengage without arousing suspicion by finishing the interactions naturally
The reliance on human errors is what makes these attacks dangerous. These errors are usually more unidentifiable than intrusions like malware and ransomware. They can occur in text messages, emails, social media chats, and face-to-face interactions. Some take time, while others can quickly compromise your data.
Types of Social Engineering Breaches
Hackers perform social engineering anywhere where human interactions are possible. Here are the most common methods:
Pretexting is a cyberattack where hackers convince you to share sensitive information or allow them access to a system. These attackers use fabricated stories, called pretexts, to gain your trust.
Hackers usually impersonate friends, co-workers, police, bank and tax officials, and other authorities in this scam. They ask questions to confirm your identity and gather valuable data.
For example, a hacker pretends to be part of a tech support team, luring you into giving them access to your device, clicking malicious links, or making bogus payments.
The information acquired in this attack includes addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, bank records, vacation dates, and security data.
Baiting is similar to a Trojan horse. However, it uses physical media and relies on the greed or curiosity of the victims. This scam promises a valuable item to entice you into surrendering sensitive credentials.
For instance, attackers leave baits like malware-infected flash drives in areas—like parking lots, bathrooms, and elevators—where victims can easily see them. These baits pique your curiosity, prompting you to insert them into your work or home computers, resulting in malware installations.
Baiting doesn’t only occur in the physical world. Online baiting, like enticing ads pointing to suspicious sites, can compromise your data. Attackers can also encourage you to download virus-infected attachments or applications.
Phishing targets the victims by posing as reputable entities through emails, phone calls, and text messages. It aims to fuel a sense of urgency or fear to force you to reveal confidential information, open infected attachments, or click malicious links.
Examples of phishing include:
- Spear Phishing – Also called whaling, it is a highly targeted scam aimed at executives, celebrities, and authorities
- Spam Phishing – Widespread attacks that target many users at once, aiming to catch unsuspecting victims
- Email Phishing – Uses emails to urge you to reply, follow up, or click malicious links
- Voice Phishing – Phone calls with automated recorded messages. An actual person might also speak to increase trust and urgency
- SMS Phishing – Text messages with fraudulent links, usually shortened
- Angler Phishing – The attacker hijacks your social media messages by imitating a trusted brand’s customer service
Search Engine Phishing – Places links pointing to fake sites at the top of search results. They could be paid ads or manipulative optimization methods
Scareware is a malware attack that tricks you into downloading or buying malicious software. This scam claims to have detected a virus or other security issues on your device.
Popup banners appearing on browsers are the most common scareware examples. These ads display texts saying, “Your computer may be infected with spyware.” They then offer to install a tool or direct you to a malicious site where you can install the software.
Hackers can also distribute scareware through emails.
Tips for Recognizing and Preventing Social Engineering Attacks
Alertness helps you avoid falling victim to social engineering traps. Like exploring student loan refinancing offers to optimize your financial health, proactive cybersecurity measures optimize your online safety.
Create strong passwords and use multi-factor authentication
Creating strong passwords is the most common security measure to protect your accounts and devices. These passwords contain at least eight characters, uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special symbols, making them challenging to guess.
Then, enable multi-factor authentication to add an extra layer of protection. This verification method uses multiple login mechanisms, like biometrics and one-time passwords (OTPs), to ensure authorized access.
Avoid opening links from suspicious texts and emails
If the email or text senders are unknown, it’s best not to respond to them. Even if you know them and are suspicious, cross-check and confirm from reputable sources or your company and service provider.
Remember that hackers can spoof emails and texts to make them appear like they come from trusted sources. Double-check, never reply, and don’t click the links or attachments.
Regularly update your security settings and antivirus
Outdated security settings and operating systems can harm your smartphone and computer. Hackers can use security loopholes to access your accounts and applications. It can also be easy for them to acquire your data when you fall for their tricks.
As such, ensure regular updates to keep your devices secure. Enable automatic updates and download the latest antivirus features whenever available.
You should also secure network-connected devices like home routers and car infotainment systems. Breaches in these devices can be vulnerable to social engineering traps.
Hackers want you to act first without thinking. They convey a sense of urgency that pressures you into following their instructions. Offers can also be so enticing that you have no time to think them through.
To avoid these traps, slow down and think twice. If the offer is too good to be true, read it multiple times and verify the claim with a quick search. Moreover, be wary of the high-pressure tactics. Never let your emotions cloud your judgment.
Enable spam filters
Email applications have spam filters. To find yours, browse your settings and turn them on. You can set the filter level to high to maximize security. Many SMS applications also have this option to block suspicious text messages.
However, the filter can accidentally flag legitimate emails as spam, so periodically check your spam folder to bring them to your inbox.
Outsmart the manipulators
Recognizing social engineering traps isn’t just a skill—it’s also a necessity. Since these attacks thrive on human emotions and vulnerabilities, rational judgment is crucial to outsmart the manipulators
Adopting proactive measures can sharpen your awareness and equip you with the right tools to thwart such malicious attempts. At the same time, vigilance and informed choices will be your strongest armor against hackers.