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Understanding Social Engineering and 5 Ways to Combat it

Cybersecurity has two broad sources of breaches: the human element and the technical element. Technical elements involve loopholes or vulnerabilities in an application, network, program, and so on. On the other hand, the human element involves errors and insecure practices on a user’s part.

Social engineering is a strategy employed by attackers to precipitate security mistakes. They use human psychology to trick web users into revealing sensitive information or granting access.

As such, they capitalize on the human element to compromise cybersecurity. Read on to learn how cybercriminals use social engineering and how to defeat it.

How Do Criminals Employ Social Engineering?

There are many ways and angles of looking at human psychology. If the human brain were a computer, it would be impressive and complex. This complexity is borne out in the diversity of human behavior.

However, social engineering seeks to target particular emotions. Below are some of the social engineering methods that criminals use.


Manipulation is the art of skillfully maneuvering people into doing what you want. Criminals use it to lure individuals into a particular line of action, sometimes without explicitly stating anything.

There are many manipulation tactics. Some are playing on insecurities, love-bombing, guilt-tripping, quid pro quo, etc.

Social engineers employ the above tactics to elicit emotional reactions in targets. For instance, love-bombing helps an attacker create and capitalize on affection. Quid pro quo, on the other hand, seeks to weaponize greed.


Baiting is different from manipulation. While the former requires active human interaction, the latter doesn’t. Where a manipulator cultivates and deftly develops a scheme, bait is static. Online baiting involves dangling free software, video, music, and so on.

In some cases, the download might require the user to provide information. In other cases, it might contain malware that infiltrates a device and network. When the download requires credentials, an attacker might use them for credential stuffing across the web.

Piggybacking and Tailgating

Both are similar strategies. Here, a criminal wins over the trust of a target. They then leverage this trust to gain physical access to a secure area.

In other words, they leverage trust and social norms to access specific resources. In the case of tailgating, access is unknowingly granted, whereas the target is aware of piggybacking.


Pharming is where technical manipulation meets social engineering. The cybercriminal, in this case, first creates a false website. Then, they lure web users to the websites from other platforms and steal their credentials.

Authority Exploitation

Criminals can collect credentials from various illegitimate sources and use them to create profiles. They leverage the profiles to contact web users. Under the guise of illegitimate authority (such as customer support, IT services, and so on), they then try to convince users to divulge information.

How to Combat Social Engineering

Since the human element is central to social engineering, it is only fitting that it plays a big role in thwarting it. The following should help efforts to detect and overcome social engineering.

Education and Awareness

The first step to security against social engineering is awareness. When creating accounts, read terms and agreements. It would help build familiarity with what is legally accepted practice and what isn’t.

Similarly, take note of standard corporate communication language and patterns. Also, look for information on the latest criminal methods. You never know when all of this education can come in handy.

Enhanced Password Security

A number of social engineering schemes aim to capture credentials on a large scale. The goal is usually to use acquired credentials to access vulnerable accounts.

In this sense, a vulnerable account makes use of a reused password. As such, it is important always to use strong and unique passwords. Reliable password managers can help create, store, and autofill passwords. In addition, they can monitor security breaches online to identify where your password may be at risk.

Exercise Caution with Personal Information

Another way to limit the effectiveness of social engineering is always to be cautious with personal information. If it’s not essential, don’t release your details.

Where necessary, verify the identity of the individual or site before sharing anything. Furthermore, reduce what you share on social media. Social media research usually informs targeted social engineering scams.

Use Multifactor Authentication

Passwords employ only a single factor of authentication. Yet, the more factors the authentication method has, the more secure your accounts become.

As such, where possible, use multi-factor authentication to protect your accounts. It ensures that even when security breaches compromise your passwords, unauthorized access is still unlikely.

Develop Healthy Skepticism

Without a healthy dose of skepticism, it is unlikely that you’re exercising enough caution. Be skeptical of free resources. Rethink every decision to share your information.

Consider requests a second and a third time before acquiescing. If possible, verify every request for information or access before engaging or complying. That’s how to stay safe from social engineering.


Not every cybercriminal has the patience to develop the know-how necessary to succeed as a conventional hacker. Unfortunately, the learning curve is not as steep for social engineering. As a result, the practice is pervasive. So, educate yourself and let your caution be your first layer of security.

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