Social engineering attacks are designed to trick unsuspecting victims into divulging sensitive data and violating security protocols so cyber criminals can gain access to their systems. Employees should be the first line of defense, but they aren’t necessarily trained to understand the risks.

All it takes is one moment of weakness. Just downloading an email attachment or clicking on a link to a suspicious website can wreak havoc on company systems and data.

Social engineering attempts used to be laughably bad for their primitiveness. Cyber criminals used to send emails to a wealth of recipients in a game of numbers. Nowadays, the attacks are becoming increasingly more targeted because cyber criminals have more resources to gain the trust of their targets.

To do this, cyber criminals might add the targets on social media, liking and commenting on posts and sending DMs. After gaining trust, they try to get their targets to share sensitive data, including bank details.

What is Social Engineering?

Social engineering is a manipulation technique that exploits human error to gain private information, access, or valuables. Cyber criminals need an arsenal of techniques to trick targets into giving them access to valuable information.


The most common type of social engineering attack is phishing. After compiling a list of targets, cyber attackers send a copy and paste email in a numbers game. The main delivery system of phishing attacks are emails and secondary options are social media, SMS or some other form of media. Attackers may impersonate a work colleague or bank representative in their request to click on a malicious link that installs malware.

Spear phishing & pretexting

Spam filters are very thorough, so cyber criminals are going more in depth with their targeting, almost like “spear phishing.” Cyber thinkers can target a specific employee within organizations, and they usually target newer employees who may not have been properly trained yet. Because criminals are financially motivated, they target financial departments. These types of attacks are time consuming and not as popular as traditional phishing techniques. Pretexting is also a way to make emails seem more legitimate. This new type of attack is called vishing — voice phishing. Cyber criminals will set up a fake number and call pretending to be someone important, like a bank representative, and ask for account details.

Baiting and quid pro quo

Trapping targets is what cyber criminals live for. They set up traps to gain access to credentials or install malware. The bait can be a physical object like a USB drive, or a link to a malicious website/application. In the strategy of quid pro quo, they entice targets with free movie downloads or a service they are interested in.

The exchange is known as baiting. The trap can be from an attacker posing as a technical support engineer. They offer to help the victim with their real problems, like free security updates, login credentials or other valuable services. They then install programs to infect a computer with malware.


A frightening call or email can scare targets into handing over sensitive information. It can be dramatic with a pop-up, scaring a target into thinking their laptop is infected with a virus. Installing software is made to seem urgent. The malware install can then begin accessing sensitive data.


Also known as piggybacking, this technique gains physical access to an employee’s device or the company’s server. They pose as an employee who has fumbled their password or lost their ID card. This only works when the company is sizable so they can easily fall under the radar.

AI-Powered Malware

Artificial intelligence and social engineering don’t seem like a great match at first glance. Cyber criminals love AI as it can bypass very sophisticated anti-malware solutions.

AI can insert itself into existing emails and game existing algorithms. What’s more, cyber criminals have harnessed AI to figure out who is most susceptible to phishing scams.

In a frightening turn, AI can also mimic the voices of senior executives, making for more believable social engineering attacks. The next wave in cyber security is going to be combatting smart phishing.

After effects of a social engineering attack


A business can be out of commission for up to a week. Contactors and customers will start to look elsewhere to protect their time.

Financial loss

Direct loss of money from a hacker’s theft, or in the attempt to recover data, can be devastating. Compromised data can reduce an organization’s value.

Trust loss

Exposing sensitive data about customers and operations can reduce a sense of trustworthiness. Even after increasing security in the aftermath of an attack, your protocols may never be trusted.

Productivity loss

When a social engineering hack is successful, team members have their work day and routine disrupted. The focus has to be on dealing with the attack rather than daily tasks.

Social engineering attacks work because they glean info from trusting team members who may feel safe on their work computer or in their work building. Cyber criminals spend time in preparation to create a successful social engineering hack.

The trick is making everything seem believable. A cyber criminal might put in months of research to access a company’s data. They will come up with a wealth of ways to make a request seem real and the first interaction genuine. They may start with small or harmless requests to gain trust before asking for sensitive information.

The future of cybersecurity is happening now. ThriveDX is actively working toward eliminating social engineering and other attacks by helping to upskill the cyber community with programs by partnering with top tier universities and enterprises. Learn more at


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