12 Days of Cyber – What is Social Engineering and How to Counter It


21 Dec 2015

12 Days of Cyber – What is Social Engineering an...

Social engineering is a method used by hackers to manipulate people into giving up sensitive information. The sort of information the criminal is after are often passwords or bank details.

The criminals use social engineering methods as they often prove effective by taking advantage of most people’s natural inclination to trust. It is a lot easier to trick someone into giving up their password than it is to hack it.

The security experts at PGI Cyber believe that the weakest link in the security chain are people who accept things at face value. You could have the toughest of security measures in place to protect your systems, but that means nothing if you trust someone enough to let them simply walk in.

Social engineering has many similarities to spear phishing attacks as the criminal takes time to learn about their victims in order to exploit them. You should always think before acting, scammers rely on their victims taking action first and thinking later.

Types of Social Engineering

Pretexting – This form of social engineering sees attackers create a fabricated scenario to trick their victims into giving up personal information.

Quid Pro Quo - A good example of this type of social engineering is a scam where someone claiming to be from a service provider (often they claim to be from an IT service provider) calls asking for details. The fraudsters often promise a quick fix to an issue in exchange for the victim disabling their antivirus program and for installing malware on their computers that assumes the guise of software updates.

Baiting – Criminals often take advantage of people’s inherent desire for free stuff. Baiters often offer users free music or movie downloads, if they surrender their login credentials to a certain site.  

Tailgating – Social engineering also employs physical tactics as well as cyber ones. The best example is tailgating. This is where someone who lacks proper security clearance follows an employee into a restricted area.

How to Counter Social Engineering

Slow down - if an email conveys a sense of urgency, or uses high-pressure sales tactics, always be sceptical. Chances are that a criminal is trying to trick you into giving up your information. On the physical side of things always be aware of your surroundings. If you don’t recognise someone do not let them into your building, scammers often rely on people being polite (holding doors open etc…)

Research the facts- You should always be wary of unsolicited messages. If an email looks like it is from a company you use (or have used), do your own research. Use a search engine to go to the real company’s site, or a phone directory to find their phone number, never trust such emails until you are sure that it is the real deal.

Delete any request for financial information or passwords- Any message asking for personal details is a scam. Delete it.

Don’t let a link control where you land- When receiving an email containing links, do not click on them as they may not be legitimate.

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