What is Social Engineering?

man in front of a computer

Social engineering is one of the most significant hacking techniques in the world. Hackers often start attacks using this method, even hacks of large-scale organizations. Despite its prevalence, many people don’t take social engineering seriously or don’t understand it at all. Below is our guide on what social engineering is and why you need to be aware of it.

What is Social Engineering and How Can it Damage Your Business?

What is Social Engineering?

Social Engineering Title
You should make sure you know what social engineering is so you can avoid falling victim to it. | Source: Keepnet

Social engineering is a very broad term that covers a lot of the techniques used to hack systems. In basic terms, social engineering uses tricks and psychological tactics to make someone do something to compromise their own security.

Hackers use the technique to gain a foothold in a system before using malware or RATs (remote access tools) to begin stealing data or controlling a system. Social engineering is an entry-point, not a method of completing a hack on its own.

Despite these drawbacks, hackers use this method more than any other hack because human beings are often the weak link in strong security.

Types of Social Engineering

Social engineering comes in many different forms, so regular people can have a hard time spotting it. Below are just some of the types of engineering commonly used on the internet.

Phishing

Phishing is a type of engineering that relies on the victim’s lack of knowledge. Often phishing comes in emails or other messages, trying to entice users into clicking links, downloading files, or installing unsafe programs.

Hackers write emails pretending to be from a trusted source or try to play against their victim’s fears. Phishing messages can claim to be from work colleagues, companies you’re known to use and trust, or even government bodies. These messages will often come with an attachment or disguise a link claiming to lead the victim to a trusted website. Once the victim takes the bait, the hacker installs malicious software on their system.

Phishing is the most common type of social engineering because it’s easy to pull off. When hackers use phishing techniques, they can cast a wide net by sending mass e-mails. If hackers target 1000 victims, even 1 percent of those victims falling for the trick gives the hacker 10 targets. With modern email and messaging services, it’s possible to send hundreds of thousands of messages in one go.

Piggybacking

Piggybacking is a type of social engineering that requires physical contact with the target. Hackers can use piggybacking to gain access to physical systems in several ways. One method is to claim they have lost their login for a system and ‘borrow’ the victim’s ID. Another method hackers use to attack is to ask to borrow a specific item of equipment like a laptop, then they quickly and quietly install malicious software on the system.

Piggybacking is a much smaller threat than phishing emails because physical contact is required. Hackers mostly rely on piggybacking if they’re targeting a specific system or company, but it can be used on the general public. If a hacker sets up in a coffee shop where people often use laptops, they can ask various people throughout their stay to ‘borrow’ their laptop to check social media or their emails and install malware surreptitiously.

Baiting

Baiting is very similar to phishing, except that baiting often offers the victim something they really want, rather than claiming to be a trusted source or playing on fear. This type of social engineering was one of the most common in the early days of the internet. Pop-ups that claim you’ve won a prize or emails that offer you money both fall into this category.

Like all types of engineering, baiting relies on human physiology to work well. Hackers who use baiting will offer the trendiest items of the moments in hopes of enticing a hapless victim, sometimes even children.

How to Spot Social Engineering

Social Engineering Infographics
Once you’re more familiar with the different types of social engineering, it’s easier to avoid them. | Source: OneSpan

Now that you know most of the ways hackers use social engineering, you need to learn how to spot them and avoid them.

When it comes to phishing attacks and similar engineering methods, your best method for spotting them is to read known phishing scams. Phishing is constantly evolving. Learning how hackers compose phishing emails is your best chance of not being a victim. We have a guide on spotting scam emails that you can use to educate yourself.

In terms of piggybacking, the main thing you need to do is be careful who you trust. If someone you don’t recognize asks for help entering your workplace, tell them you can’t help them. Don’t lend your laptop to strangers, no matter what they claim to need.

With all types of social engineering, it’s important to ask yourself questions. Nothing is ever free, especially on the internet. If you receive a message offering something for free, you should be immediately suspicious.

Other Things You Can Do

Social engineering is a powerful tool, but it’s not the only one out there. Hackers use social engineering as a method of gaining a foothold in your system. There are other actions you should take to protect yourself in case of a social engineering breach.

Keep your protective software up-to-date. Antivirus, Antimalware, and a decent firewall with up-to-date databases can save you even if a system user messes up.

Humans are the weak link in the security chain, so you should always plan around the human error. If you have a home network, make sure that someone knowledgeable has a hand in setting it up. Not using proper security on your wireless router can lead to loss of your data, especially with children and young people in the house.

Children are some of the most vulnerable when it comes to social engineering. Younger people are more likely to fall for phishing and baiting scams, so you ensure they’re well educated about the dos and don’ts of using a computer and the internet. Our guide on safe online participation for children can help you figure out what to teach them.

Also read: The Most Common Hacking Techniques of 2021

Worried about hackers? Out comprehensive security audit can keep you safe.

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A gaming and technology writer who has been building computers and tinkering with software since he was a teenager. Previously involved with various prestigious websites, including TechRaptor.net and CCN.COM. Now tutorial creator for Hacked.com.

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