What Is Social Engineering in Cybersecurity?

Social engineering are behaviors that are conducted in order to manipulate internet users.

As online communities and capabilities continue to evolve every year, so too do the risks of stumbling into a malicious attack. While we have programs and software systems that are designed to protect our sensitive information, hackers and individuals with bad intentions frequently develop new social engineering tactics to gain unauthorized access to a target’s credentials. 

Many internet users are not familiar with the concept of social engineering, and as such, they’re often not up to speed with the new methods that are being used to trick people into providing information that exposes a victim to a slew of cyber security breaches. 

A couple of common questions that arise when people hear about social engineering for the first time are, “what is social engineering in cyber security,” or, “what does a social engineering attack look like online?”

Let’s cover what social engineering is, the different types of social engineering attacks that scammers use to target personal information, and how to prevent social engineering efforts from having any success as we utilize technology in our work and personal lives.

What Is Social Engineering?

At a glance, this expression can appear intricate and complicated, but the social engineering meaning is quite simple. In basic terms, social engineering is an array of behaviors that are conducted in order to manipulate internet users into revealing personal or confidential information. 

Though there are safety measures designed to protect users from security breaches(malware protection, antivirus software, pop-up blockers, etc.), social engineering psychology aims to bypass established safeguards by appealing to the trust, need, or better nature of the individual that malicious parties are trying to attack. 

Most of us are familiar with the Nigerian Prince scam that was common in the late 1990s and early 2000s, in which individuals were receiving unsolicited emails from scammers pretending to be Nigerian royalty. The scam story varied on occasion but the framework of it promised the receiver millions of dollars for aid in moving a fortune out of Nigeria. However, upon tricking the scam target into providing their banking information, the scammer would empty the account and disappear. 

This trick is one of the oldest social engineering examples in history, and because nobody falls for this specific scam anymore, social engineering attacks have become more convincing.

What Is a Social Engineering Attack?

A social engineering attack refers to the act of using social engineering tactics in order to gain access to sensitive information. What sets these attacks apart from other predatory attempts to obtain critical data is the human element that social engineering attacks use to instill a sense of urgency or panic in the target. This sort of manipulation makes it where the target has very little time to think about the situation they’re in, which makes it more difficult to pick up on the red flags involved in the behavior displayed toward them. 

There are several types of social engineering attacks, and while many of them take place in online spaces, a few social engineering tactics affect people in offline situations. The following examples of social engineering attacks can take place in person, online, or over the phone:

Some social engineering attacks are more convincing than others, and because of this, it can be challenging for a target to be aware that they’re being attacked until it’s too late. 

Often, social engineering attacks target people who are especially vulnerable and even if the target is skeptical at first, scammers will often intimidate and threaten their victims until they feel obligated to comply with the demands being forced upon them. 

Social engineering attackers have been known to contact low-income, elderly, or disabled individuals with claims that they’re in some sort of trouble with the IRS, Social Security Administration, or debt collectors. They extort money from these individuals with threats of incarceration in many cases.

Other times, social engineering attacks will attempt to offer the individual service or product that seems too good to be true, such as 0% interest on credit cards, debt forgiveness, free medical devices, and more.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to recognize social engineering attacks, which we will cover in the next two sections of this article.

Types of Social Engineering

In addition to the social engineering scheme types mentioned above, there are several other tactics that scammers can use to gain access to sensitive information. The most common scam models include the following:

How Can You Protect Yourself from Social Engineering?

Social engineering can occur through a number of different attack methods, but no matter which type of attack a malicious party attempts to launch, there are ways that individuals can protect themselves from falling victim to these attacks. 

The following tips are simple security measures you can take to prevent scammers from gaining access to your sensitive information.

If you experience something that feels suspicious, it’s a good idea to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission and cease contact with the individual attempting to gain access to your information. Further, if this breach attempt took place at your job, inform your organization’s supervisory or management team so that they can investigate the issue and protect the business from future attacks. 

In addition to paying close attention to the contact attempts you receive, it’s also beneficial to utilize efficient internet security programs. 

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