Types of Social Engineering Attacks (2024)

Some examples of social engineering attacks include phishing, pretexting, scareware, baiting, vishing, smishing and CEO fraud. If you are unsure what qualifies as social engineering, imagine how many ways someone can manipulate you to reveal private information. Threat actors use these psychological techniques, both in person and online, to gain access to your personal or organizational information. These bad actors can install malware on your device, steal your information and even take your identity.

Read below to learn more about social engineering attack examples and how you can prevent yourself from becoming a victim of social engineering attacks.

Phishing

Phishing is when cybercriminals impersonate someone or something the targeted victim knows, like a company or family member, to gain access to private information. You are probably thinking that phishing sounds pretty similar to social engineering, and it is actually a type of social engineering attack. Typically, phishing occurs over emails, texts and calls to persuade victims into installing malware or handing over sensitive data. However, social engineering as a technique is not limited to the same mediums as phishing. While phishing is an example of social engineering, not all social engineering attacks fall under phishing.

The goal that cybercriminals have when phishing is to get their targeted victim to click on a link that can download malware onto their device, steal their sensitive information or take them to a spoofed website.

Here are some of the most common kinds of phishing attempts that you should watch out for:

  1. Messages using urgent language, especially in the context of threatening account deactivation if you do not act quickly
  2. Threats of monetary consequences
  3. Offers that seem too good to be true
  4. Requests for personal information from cybercriminals who claim to be a company or person you know
  5. Email addresses or domain names that do not match who the person claims they are

Vishing and smishing

Now that we know what phishing is, it’s important to learn about other similar types of social engineering attacks: vishing and smishing. Both vishing and smishing are types of phishing attacks, but what differentiates them is the contact method the threat actor uses to target their victim.

Vishing occurs over the phone, allowing the victim to more readily believe the voice on the other end of the call. More recently, cybercriminals have been using AI in vishing scams to impersonate the voices of someone the victim knows, like a coworker or family member, by analyzing audio recordings and videos to be more realistic. A crucial step to protecting yourself from vishing attacks is to avoid answering calls from unknown numbers. Some phones even have a setting to silence unknown callers, so you will not even be tempted to answer.

Smishing occurs through text messages and is also referred to as SMS phishing. Victims of smishing will receive a text with urgent language to click a link and log in to a regularly used account. However, this link will not be legitimate, and the threat actor can use the credentials the victim enters to gain access to their account. With a similar solution to preventing yourself from becoming a victim of vishing, an easy way to avoid falling for smishing attacks is to block phone numbers that send you any suspicious links.

Pretexting

Another type of social engineering attack is pretexting, where a victim is persuaded into revealing private information by creating a story. By using a pretext, the threat actor psychologically manipulates a victim into feeling sympathetic or fearful in order to gain their trust. When a cybercriminal develops a false narrative that the victim will believe, this gives them more credibility, making it more likely for a victim to believe that it is necessary to send them money or share sensitive information. Pretexting involves abundant research from the cybercriminal to learn where their victim works, what they are interested in through their social media accounts, who they know through online activity, etc. This type of social engineering attack is especially harmful because a victim may unknowingly fall for scams that could place them and their private information in danger.

Scareware

As the name suggests, scareware is another type of social engineering attack that relies on victims falling for downloading malware camouflaged as antivirus software. By scaring individuals with urgent messages claiming their device has been infected, cybercriminals terrorize their victims and psychologically manipulate them into completing an action for the cybercriminal to gain access to their sensitive data.

One of the most common scareware attacks is through pop-up ads. For example, if you click on a new website, an ad might falsely claim that your computer has been infected with a virus. To stop the virus and fix this issue, you could be tempted to click the message to download antivirus software that really contains destructive malware. Instead of clicking the pop-up ads or even trying to click an “X” to close the ad, just close the browser window entirely to avoid becoming a victim of scareware attacks.

Baiting

Baiting is when cybercriminals lure victims into performing an action that leads them to have their information stolen or their device infected with malware. Malvertising is a type of baiting where cybercriminals use advertisem*nts that a victim may see online to spread malware onto their devices. Social engineering attacks bait victims through malvertisem*nts, leading to data being compromised. For example, if you are shopping online and click on an ad, a malvertisem*nt may warn you that your device is infected and will then infect your device whether you click on the warning or not. Although many people think that baiting is the same idea as phishing, phishing involves cybercriminals pretending to be someone the victim knows whereas baiting does not require any pretense.

CEO fraud

When a cybercriminal pretends to be the CEO of an organization, this is called CEO fraud. This type of social engineering attack manipulates a targeted employee into sending the cybercriminal money or sharing private information by relying on the victim trusting an authoritative figure within their company. CEO fraud is considered an example of social engineering because the cybercriminal targets specific victims to psychologically manipulate them by convincing them that they are the CEO of their company.

Types of Social Engineering Attacks (1)

Preventing social engineering attacks

After learning about these social engineering attack examples, you probably want to know how to prevent yourself from becoming a victim. Here are some supplementary tips and best practices to prevent social engineering attacks from affecting you:

  • Clear your browsing history and cookies often
  • Make your social media profiles private
  • Delete accounts that are no longer in use
  • Be wary of suspicious emails, text messages or phone calls
  • Create strong passwords and enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)

Due to the popularity of social media, there are countless dangers when it comes to oversharing that could lead to social engineering attacks. While it may make you feel more connected to your followers by sharing everything that goes on in your life, oversharing on social media can endanger your privacy. Avoid posting intimate details about yourself, people who you regularly spend time with, work-related information or tagging the location of where you are in your posts. Cybercriminals can use any of these details about your identity against you in the form of social engineering attacks.

Protect yourself from social engineering attacks

These types of social engineering attacks can impact anyone unaware of the tactics used by cybercriminals to gain access to your private information. Take the necessary steps to protect yourself from social engineering attacks and minimize the risks of identity theft, unauthorized access to important accounts and more.

Sign up for a free 30-day trial of Keeper Password Manager to prevent social engineering from damaging you.

Types of Social Engineering Attacks (2024)

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