Social Engineering In The Context Of Cybersecurity

Last updated December 5th, 2023 23:55

Social engineering is a complex term that refers to dangerous practices used by some individuals in the IT field. It is aimed at gaining unauthorized access to valuable information. Although it may seem like something out of an action movie, social engineering is a real threat that can jeopardize both your personal security and the security of your data. Let’s take a closer look at what social engineering means in the context of cybersecurity, as it is a very interesting concept.

Social Engineering in the Context of Cybersecurity

Let’s illustrate it with an example that is familiar to all of us: a visit to a café. Imagine you sit down at your favorite café, and there’s a stranger sitting next to you. You start chatting, and you mention that you are having trouble with your email account password. The stranger assures you that they’d be happy to help and asks what password you would like to have. Without thinking much about it, you tell them a combination that you currently remember. That was your first mistake.

Now, this stranger goes online and tries to use your name and email address to uncover more information about you. They might find your profiles on social media or even information about your family. With this, they can gradually gather more and more data until they finally have enough information to attempt to access your email account. This is social engineering in practice.

What can social engineering look like?

Such attackers can use various tricks to gain your trust and information. For instance, they may contact you on social media under a false name. They might pretend to be employees of trustworthy companies and ask for sensitive data. They can also lure you into clicking on seemingly innocent links that, in reality, contain malicious software.

To protect yourself from social engineering, it is crucial to be cautious and not trust unknown individuals asking for your personal information. You should also carefully choose strong passwords and never share them with others. If you have doubts about someone contacting you, it is always best to verify their identity with the respective company or person themselves.

What techniques does social engineering use?

Social engineering is the dark side of the modern digital age. Attackers exploit human weaknesses and trust to achieve their nefarious goals. An examination of these dangerous techniques reveals how easily we can fall prey to their manipulations. It also highlights how urgently we need to protect our digital identity.

Lets take a look:

  • Pressure and fear: Attackers often employ tactics of intimidation or create a false sense of urgency. It could be a claim that your account will be blocked if you don’t provide sensitive information or that you will face unpleasant consequences if you don’t comply with their demands.
  • FOMO – Fear of Missing Out: FOMO is another psychological tactic that attackers like to exploit. They may send you an email about an “exclusive offer” or “limited quantity of products” and hope that you will act quickly and impulsively without carefully considering the consequences. The FOMO effect is well-known in the context of investing, for example.
  • Deception by impersonating trusted institutions (phishing): Phishing attacks are common and often very sophisticated. Attackers pretend to be familiar institutions or services, such as banks, social media platforms, or email providers. They send you fake emails or SMS messages (smishing) with the goal of obtaining your login credentials or other sensitive information.
  • Temptation through promises and rewards: Scammers lure their victims with promises of significant winnings, such as in lotteries or contests. However, these promised “rewards” are merely a pretext to gain control over your account or identity.
  • Exploiting well-known social tricks: Some attackers leverage general human attributes, such as kindness or willingness to help. They may approach you with a request for a temporary loan or ask for assistance in a transaction to gain your trust. In reality, they have entirely different intentions. Attackers commonly use this practice in smishing. First, they send you a code via SMS, which they later ask you to send back under various pretexts. By doing so, you usually lose money. This happens in a service where the code sent to your phone serves as a verification mechanism.

How can you defend against social engineering?

  • Verify identities: Before providing sensitive information, verify the identity of the person or institution requesting it. You can use alternative contacts, such as official websites or phone numbers listed on accounts and webpages.
  • Be cautious on social media: Avoid sharing too much personal information on social media. Attackers can exploit this information and use it for their attacks.
  • Do not share passwords: Never send your passwords to unknown individuals or suspicious websites. Companies never ask for passwords via email or phone.
  • Watch out for emails and links: Be cautious when opening emails from unknown senders and avoid clicking on suspicious-looking links. You can verify links by hovering your mouse cursor over them and checking the URL address in the bottom of your browser or email client.
  • Keep software updated: Ensure that your operating system, antivirus program, and other software are always up to date. This helps protect you from known security threats.
  • Maintain information confidentiality: Pay attention to the confidentiality of your personal and work-related information. Do not share it with unauthorized individuals or in public places.
  • Use two-factor authentication (2FA): Use 2FA for your accounts whenever possible. It provides an additional layer of protection during the login process.
  • Backup your data: Regularly back up important files and data. In case of an attack, you can restore your data from the backup and minimize losses.
  • Recognize warning signs: Be cautious if someone asks for unusual information or creates a sense of urgency. Also, be mindful of excessive flattery or personal information that you wouldn’t expect (attackers may find such information on social media, for instance).

Social Engineering in the Context of Cybersecurity


As you can see, social engineering is simply a term for a list of psychological techniques. Attackers use these techniques to target people’s trust or exploit their weaknesses. They evoke feelings of fear, urgency, and impersonate false identities. Often, they pose as authorities such as the police, banks, email providers, or government agencies. When it comes to social engineering, the most important thing is to take a deep breath and avoid immediate action. Additionally, it is crucial to use critical thinking. If you are unsure, always contact the official customer support of the authority the attacker claims to represent. This will save you a lot of worries, problems, and time.

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