Social Engineering Attacks

We previously examined phishing email attacks from the eyes of an attacker in our article, Think Like A Criminal: How To Write A Phishing Email, to help you understand and protect against these email scams that are to blame for over 90% of all company cyberattacks. Ninety-eight percent of all cyberattacks rely on social engineering, so organizations of all sizes should have as much information and advice regarding these tactics to safeguard their users and critical business assets.

This article will discuss cybercriminals' various social engineering techniques to manipulate psychology and succeed in an attack.

What Is Social Engineering & How Is It a Threat to My Business?

In 2022, social engineering was ranked as the number one type of threat. It refers to using deception to manipulate individuals into sharing confidential or personal information that can be used for fraudSocial engineeringulent or malicious purposes. Criminals have been leveraging social engineering techniques for centuries; however, in recent years, the magnitude of this threat type has increased exponentially. Threat actors can now obtain extensive information on targets by scouring the Internet, relying heavily on widely-used social media platforms for their research. Attack campaigns often prey on people’s desire to help or leverage trust relationships built with a superior, colleague, partner, or organization.

Like other cyber and email security threats, social engineering attacks generally follow a standard lifecycle methodology that can be broken down into four clearly defined steps:

  1. Information Gathering: Threat actors identify a target, employ Open Source Intelligence Techniques (OSINT) to gather as much information on the target as possible, and select the threat type and attack method(s) they will use.
  2. Establish Relationship: Cybercriminals engage with the victim through targeted communications such as social media or spear phishing emails.
  3. Exploitation: Attackers use the information and the relationship they’ve built with the target to gain a “foothold” to convince message recipients to give away sensitive information.
  4. Attack Execution: Threat actors perform the attack - carefully erasing any digital footprints (such as malware) to remain undetected.

Be on the Lookout for These Social Engineering Attacks

Social engineering scams are highly successful because they exploit human nature. Here are the attacks that are most likely to wreak havoc on your company’s cybersecurity:

Phishing: A Favorite Lure Among Social Engineers 

Phishinga fish hook on computer keyboard representing phishing attack on computer system is the most common type of social engineering attack used to gain access to account credentials, sensitive data, confidential business information, and funds. Phishing has dominated the email threat landscape for decades; however, with the recent increase in remote workers and the proliferation of popular cloud platforms like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace, there has been a resurgence in phishing email attacks. Unlike past phishing campaigns, a modern attack tricks users in more sophisticated and evasive ways, relying heavily on social engineering to appear legitimate. These malicious scams carry severe consequences for businesses, including data loss, financial theft, reputation damage, significant downtime, and, in many cases, permanent shutdown.

Brand Impersonation

Social engineering attacks may also impersonate well-known brands. These attacks are deployed via email, text, and voice messages and take advantage of the fact that most people receive messages from major brands regularly, eliminating suspicion when one extra message arrives.

Business Email Compromise (BEC)

Business Email Compromise (BEC) is a social engineering attack involving impersonating a trusted business contact to convince the target to pay a fake invoice, transfer funds, or disclose sensitive company information. BEC scams target executives and leaders, finance employees, and HR managers. Newly hired employees with little experience tend to be reliable victims, as they may not be able to verify the sender’s legitimacy yet.


Tailgating is a social engineering attack involving an unauthorized person gaining physical access to an off-limits location, such as a password-protected area, where they might steal sensitive information, damage property, compromise user credentials, or even install malware on computers.

Baiting Attacks

Baiting attacks involve a target inputting a storage device into a machine to open the fake content, designed to appear entirely legitimate to avoid triggering suspicion and infecting their system with malware.

Pretexting Attacks

Pretexting abuses the trust between the victim and someone they know by convincing the target to provide certain private information. These threat types tend to have a higher chance of success because they are considerably more challenging for anti-spam filters to detect.

social engineering attacksShoulder-Surfing Attacks

Hybrid work environments have made shoulder-surfing attacks more relevant and dangerous, as they involve an attacker sitting in a public place behind an individual working remotely so that they can catch a password being entered or sensitive information being displayed on a screen. Shoulder-surfing attacks are also used to steal the PINs of ATM users.

Quid Pro Quo

Quid Pro Quo, social engineering attacks promise a financial reward in exchange for an employee performing a malicious action for the attacker. Cybercriminals can ask former or current company workers since organizations do not always shut down old accounts right after termination.

Watering Hole Attacks

As employees regularly visit certain websites to perform essential work-related tasks, a watering hole attack happens when a cybercriminal infects the website to steal sensitive information or distribute malware. Attacks like these are difficult to fight since victims cannot directly work on the security of the infected website.

social engineering infographicDownload

How Can I Defend Against Social Engineering Attacks?

Most social engineering attacks are so targeted and deceptive that falling for a scam can no longer be blamed on the victim. Even the most security-conscious individuals can be tricked by social engineering. Thus, defending against social engineering attacks requires a comprehensive, fully managed cloud email security software solution capable of anticipating and blocking advanced and emerging email threats in real-time and preventing all malicious mail from being delivered, creating a safeguarded environment for the user.

Additionally, users and organizations should use strong passwords for all accounts and be careful what information they make publicly available online, including addresses, phone numbers, and more. You can monitor the accessibility of your personal information through websites like Have I Been Pwned, which inform users when their data has been discovered.

Keep Learning About Social Engineering Protection

People are not computers - but they can still be hacked through social engineering tactics. Combating modern email threats that leverage social engineering techniques requires a fully managed, all-in-one cloud email security solution that safeguards your inbox against all fraudulent mail that could potentially lead to compromised accounts.

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