What is social engineering, and why is it a threat to your business?

You’re probably familiar with the sort of cyberattacks where hackers use their technical expertise and sophisticated tools to access protected computers and data. But there is a different kind of threat that is far more challenging to counter — social engineering attacks.

The term “social engineering” describes a broad range of malicious activities wherein attackers manipulate, or trick people, into giving up confidential information or taking actions that could compromise security. These types of attacks prey on the users’ weaknesses rather than the systems’ vulnerabilities.

Social attacks are carefully planned and perpetrated over a long time, during which the attacker gains the victims’ trust and can eventually lure them into breaking security protocols. Most victims never realize they’re being tricked until it’s too late, making social engineering attacks wildly successful and dangerous. According to a recent breach report, 33 percent of successful breaches in 2019 involved some form of social attack.

Common types of social engineering attacks

Let’s explore some of the most popular types of social attacks to understand what these threats look like.


Phishing is one of the most popular attack vectors. In a recent survey, 83 percent of respondents reported having experienced phishing attacks. Most phishing scams use deceptive emails, text messages, and websites to trick people into sharing their personal and security information. Attackers typically target login credentials, names, addresses, credit card information, and social security numbers.


Baiting attacks mostly leverage human curiosity. In some cases, attackers entice users into handing them sensitive information with the promise of alluring gifts, such as music and movies, through FTP download links. These attacks are not limited to the internet either. Baiters sometimes leave flash drives, compact discs, and the like in public places, hoping that unsuspecting passersby will collect them and run the embed malicious code in their machines.


This is a type of social engineering attack based on carefully scripted scenarios. In pretexting attacks, scammers impersonate various characters and fabricate compelling stories to get their audiences to take specific actions or give up sensitive data. For example, a con artist pretending to be an investigator or reporter might call or email an employee and coerce them into disclosing sensitive corporate information.

Quid pro quo

This type of attack is very similar to pretexting, except it mainly focuses on stealing personal information and getting users to jeopardize security systems. The attacker pretends to be an authority figure, such as someone from a government agency or IT service, and gets employees to share security credentials or clear the path for a secondary attack.

How to protect your business from social attacks

Malicious attackers who use social engineering techniques prey on the gullible and curious nature of human psychology. Alarmingly, con artists are getting better at their game; social attacks are becoming more convincing and devastating. Nowadays, anybody can fall victim to these attacks, regardless of their rank or intellect. 

On that note, here are a few tips for protecting yourself, your employees, and your business from social threats:

  • Never reply to messages from people you don’t know or click on email attachments from unverified sources.
  • Ensure your network, servers, and end-user devices have sufficient malware protection.
  • Train your employees to spot and dodge malicious schemes.
  • Avoid questionable sites or WiFi hotspots that ask visitors to create a user account.
  • Scrutinize the legitimacy of requests and messages before taking any action. And remember that no genuine institution will ask for your username, password, or personal data through social media, calls, or emails.
  • Create a chain of command for altering systems’ security protocols.
  • Implement multi-factor authentication as an additional layer of protection.

Social engineering is a serious and growing threat to many businesses. The attacks can take many different forms and be equally devastating. They are also difficult to detect and mitigate, despite being some of the most common data security risks. Maintain a high level of security vigilance, reinforce your cybersecurity, and incorporate company-wide threat awareness training to protect your business against social attacks and other threats.