Social Engineering in Cybersecurity

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Raj Vardhman
Written by
Raj Vardhman

Updated · Nov 17, 2023

Raj Vardhman
Chief Strategist, Techjury | Project Engineer, WP-Stack | Joined January 2023 | Twitter LinkedIn
Raj Vardhman

Raj Vardhman is a tech expert and the Chief Tech Strategist at, where he leads the rese... | See full bio

Lorie Tonogbanua
Edited by
Lorie Tonogbanua


Lorie Tonogbanua
Joined June 2023 | LinkedIn
Lorie Tonogbanua

Lorie is an English Language and Literature graduate passionate about writing, research, and learnin... | See full bio

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A social engineering attack is a cyberattack that uses people’s interactions to access networks and data without authorization. Statistics show that about 98% of cyberattacks are using social engineering.

Social engineering is a form of psychological manipulation. It aims to persuade an unsuspecting user to take a specific action to aid a cyberattack. 

It can also use the victim's knowledge and consent, where they are tricked into divulging private company information.  

In this article, you will learn the types of social engineering and how it works.

What Is Social Engineering In Cybersecurity?

Social engineering thrives in human error to obtain information in person, online, or through other forms of interaction. The scammer uses a person's motivation to deceive and manipulate them.

Attackers have two goals:

  1. Sabotage the data by damaging or corrupting it to cause inconvenience and harm, and
  2. Steal valuable information, access, or money.

Many hackers exploit the user's lack of knowledge and awareness to carry out these attacks. 

An example of a social engineering attack is when users are unaware of drive-by downloads and malicious programs are installed on their devices. 

Here, hackers entice a victim to click and open, and once the website opens, it will automatically install malware.

Cybercrime is on the rise, and cybercriminals use a lot of tactics to carry out their malicious intent. Social engineering is one of the most effective forms of cybercrime. 

How Does Social Engineering Work?

Social engineering comes in different forms of attacks to manipulate users. Here's how it works:

Step 1: The threat actor will investigate. During this time, they will choose a suitable attack strategy, identify their target individuals, and gather relevant background information about them.

Step 2: The attacker baits the victim. They will engage by creating a story to gain a strong foothold in the target's system. 

An example is when the attacker tricks the victim into downloading and installing malicious software in their company's system.

Once malicious actors compromise the victim's device, they can execute the attack to disrupt the company network, leak confidential company information, or modify the systems that maintain long-term network access.

There are also many forms of social engineering attacks that people should look out for. 

Common Social Engineering Attacks

It is important to understand the different kinds of cyber attacks. This way, you can decipher and avoid falling victim.

Here are some of the social engineering attacks used by cybercriminals:


Phishing is a social engineering attack through email and text messages that instills a sense of urgency, fear, or curiosity to make the victim click the link. 

Statistics show that one in four (28.1%) people over 75 are phishing victims. This is why it is important to always look out for warning signs of phishing. 

Attacks using phishing can be:

  1. Spam phishing - This is also known as mass phishing. It is a common non-personalized attack because it targets numerous unsuspecting individuals. 
  2. Spear phishing and whaling - Both are email phishing but the former targets specific individuals, while the latter targets high-value individuals.

When the victim clicks the link, it will direct the user to a malicious website to get sensitive information or install different types of malware.

As a result, the scammer can get usernames, passwords, and bank details to use for nefarious purposes.


In this type of social engineering attack, a hacker makes the victim disperse malware or enticing ads to encourage someone to download a malware-infected application.

The attacker could also use a malware-infected flash drive to lure a curious person into injecting it into their computer. 

When the individual injects the device into their computer, it automatically installs malware to steal their personal information and bank information. 

This method has become common among cybercriminals as they find new ways to deceive unsuspecting individuals.


Tailgating is an attack where an authorized person is manipulated into letting the hackers gain access in a restricted environment.

It is also known as "piggybacking" because the unauthorized person "rides" into someone else's authority to enter an employee-only authorized area.

This type of attack can cause financial loss, damage a company's reputation, or loss of valuable devices.


In this social engineering attack, the attacker gains the victim's trust by pretending and manipulating them into thinking they are someone with an authoritative position.

By pretending to be coworkers, police, bank, tax, or other officials with the authority to know anything, the attacker typically begins by building confidence with their victim. 

The pretexter poses necessary inquiries to verify the victim's identity to obtain crucial personal information about the victim.

This scam obtains important data and documents, including social security numbers, individual addresses and phone numbers, bank records, and even security details. These things can be used for many fraudulent purposes, most commonly identity theft.

Quid pro quo

Quid pro quo, which translates as "something for something," is a social engineering attack where the attacker promises the unsuspecting person a favor in exchange for a benefit or information.

An example is when the attacker asks an employee to give them access to their computer in exchange for removing viruses or malware in their computer. 

This attack is a kind of baiting method; however, instead of making someone fall for something out of curiosity or fear, the attacker offers something in return based on manipulation and abuse of trust. 


A scareware cyberattack usually comes in ads that appear on a user's computer or through spam email attacks. This method uses threats to trick people into downloading malware or visiting an infected website. 

The common security threats of scareware could be download hijacking, malvertising, and ransomware, among others, resulting in stealing sensitive and valuable information.

Watering hole attack

The watering hole attack got its name from the predatory animals that lurk and await a chance to ambush victims. In this case, the attacker targets user groups by infecting their frequently visited websites.

Attacks using this method are relatively rare but highly successful. 

Social Engineering Attacks Examples

Awareness is the key to stopping social engineering attacks and enhancing a company’s cybersecurity. Here are some examples:

Email From Someone You Know

  • Once the cybercriminal obtains access to the email that has access to other contacts, it can send emails or messages through the victim's account.
  • The danger lies when the victim's unsuspecting yet curious friend clicks on the link and the site contains malware. Also the message may also contain a media file that will install malicious software when downloaded.
  • These scenarios will result in the collection of every victim's information, which will continue spreading to everyone they know.

Trusted Source Email

  • Phishing attacks are a subset of social engineering tactics that pretend to be a reliable source for people to give up their sensitive information.
  • This attack is the number one complaint for businesses and individuals, which caused about $1.8 billion in business losses in 2020. The messages may contain a compelling story from a "friend" asking for urgent help or from a seemingly legitimate source.
  • This is why phishing has replaced malware as the leading type of cyberattack since 2016 because it uses compelling catchwords to fool people into giving their information.

Baiting scenarios

  • These social engineering schemes know that many people will fall for the trap if offered something they want. 
  • An example is when a person using torrent unsuspectingly downloaded malware-infected digital content.

These are just some of the common real-life situations where social engineering manifests itself. It is very important to stay vigilant when dealing with online transactions. 

Bottom Line

Social engineering, when done right, can be beneficial. When scammers use this method in cybersecurity to deceive and harm people, it can cause losses and breaches that can lead to identity theft. 

People must be well-educated about the many forms of cyber attacks. As they always say, people's awareness of these attacks is still the best weapon to fight against scammers.


Is social engineering a cybercrime?

Yes. It is a manipulation technique cybercriminals use to exploit human trust and error to obtain confidential information or to inject malicious software.

Why is social engineering a critical part of cybersecurity?

It relies on human error instead of flaws in software and operating systems, making it more dangerous because it is less predictable than malware-based intrusions.

Why do hackers prefer social engineering?

It is easier to gain access because it utilizes a person’s trust and confidence rather than using advanced hacking tactics.


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