Types of Social Engineering Attacks
By Nancy William 14 minutes
Cyberattacks nowadays have spiked beyond measure, and with that said, you’ve probably heard about various types of social engineering attacks. You could call it a collection of various kinds of malicious attacks induced through psychological exploitation and manipulation.
It’s more like experiencing the worst kinds of cybersecurity attacks and not even knowing how it happened. Social engineering attacks are intricately done, taking the time to target specific people, develop certain strategies, find out weak points of entry, get the casualty to trust the attacker, and so on.
This guide will uncover some of the worst types of social engineering attacks and how you can build protection strategies against them.
Table of contents
- What is social engineering?
- The cycle of Social engineering attacks
- 17 Kinds of social engineering attacks
- Protection Strategies to prevent social engineering attacks
What is social engineering?
As mentioned above, social engineering is a collection of numerous kinds of cyberattacks that occur through human and psychological interactions. It’s where the perpetrator will set a target and use any means possible to attain results. These results are loss of sensitive information, banking details, identity fraud, stolen funds, device takeover, or installing malware on people’s devices through phishing attempts.
For instance, there was a time when thousands of Facebook accounts were hacked through FlyTrap Trojan malware. This happened through users downloading fake apps from the app stores.
The cycle of Social engineering attacks
There are certain steps that each attacker takes to complete a social engineering attack. Here are the steps:
- Targeting a victim
- Investigating them and compiling information
- Coming up with attack methods depending on weak or vulnerable points.
- Engaging with the victim
- Planning a story to spin and convince the victim
- Expanding the attack by slowly and gradually asking the target for information
- Placing malware and other social engineering plots in place for the attack
- Covering all tracks after the attack takes place
Now that you know how social engineering attacks work, take a look below to know the different types of social engineering attacks.
17 Kinds of social engineering attacks
The following are currently some of the more advanced social engineering attacks today. They are:
Starting off with Phishing, it’s usually the kind of social engineering attack that takes place through texts and emails. You may have at some time noticed an email asking you to sign in with some personal account details, or that you have to pay a certain amount to continue a membership you’ve never applied for. They can even use these tactics to install Zeus malware or other kinds on your device.
I know what you’re thinking. Why would anyone blindly respond to such emails and texts? It’s not that simple. Some of these phishing scams are extremely difficult to make out. This also includes chatting up someone on Instagram and being tricked into a relationship, only to find out your bank account has been emptied. This is called Instagram phishing and can happen on almost every other social media service.
Another kind of phishing attack is Vishing. It involves scammers tricking the victim into complying with their demands through phone calls. They spoof their numbers by impersonating bank officials, colleges, hospitals, office places, and so on.
Sometimes, the calls are so advanced to a point that their voices too seem familiar. These scammers will ask you for sensitive information like your addresses, social security numbers, and more. It’s why bank officials tell clients over and over again that no representative would ever ask for sensitive data on call or text.
We’ve covered emails and phone calls, and now let’s talk about smishing attacks done through text messages. This kind of social engineering attack is proven to be very successful because almost anyone assumes that whoever has your number and name, must be an authentic source.
It can come in the form of a text message asking you to click on a link containing your parcel delivery confirmation, typing a code to a text in order to secure your social media account, and so on. You’ll barely know the difference.
What comes to mind when you hear the word bait? You can describe it as something exciting attached at the end of a deadly hook, waiting patiently for victims to get tempted – lured in. There are different variations of what baiting attacks look like.
The attackers either steal information through advertisements, announcements, free prizes, etc., or infect your system with malware using flash drives. Without a thought, the victim plugs these malicious flash drives into their devices causing system failure or loss of information.
The same can be said about installing apps that are fake or malicious from various app stores. They advertise in such convincing ways that you won’t tell the difference. It’s like looking for the best Firestick apps and landing on some that are far from authentic – possibly filling your device with malware and other kinds of infections.
Spear phishing is another one of the most targeted kinds of social engineering attacks today. It’s called a precise kind of phishing scam mostly because it targets its victims with so much detailed planning – takes weeks to months to pull off. These kinds of attacks target bigger fish like large enterprises, high-profile individuals, etc.
To specify how it works, the target will receive an email or many where the content impersonates a group from within the workplace or a private consultant.
The email can ask you to change your password or email to enter or login to a specific page, portal, or account. The link to the form page can be the area where the attack is conducted – where the hacker can easily gain access to all information entered.
If you’ve recently bought a product online or through social media, and proceeded to lodge a complaint, there are scammers waiting to attack. They use spoofed or fake customer service accounts to scam customers into filling out forms with personal information.
For example, let’s say that there is a page on Facebook where users file complaints about XYZ companies. These attackers monitor all complaints and target specific users who have a lot to lose.
How many of you have been victims of online dating scams? Have you ever spoken to someone, fell head over heels for them, only to find out you were being trolled all along? The person you’re talking to claims to be a 22-year-old boy, but actually turns out to be a 78-year-old man.
Fake profiles that are scams are often used as one of the fastest social engineering attacks. This is called catfishing the victims into believing that they’re talking to someone who’s honest and real – it’s just the opposite.
These kinds of catfishing scams can go so far as to get someone emotionally attached to you, and then using some sad-sob story, ask them to donate money to you. The attackers can even ask for personal information; can be used in any way possible.
Among the types of social engineering attacks, we have Diversion theft. If you only take a look at the name itself, you’ll understand this kind of attack more clearly. Diversion means to distract someone from what’s actually happening.
Through this, the attacker can easily trick users into giving them sensitive information like account details, addresses, passwords. Financial statements and much more.
Pretexting can be defined as another kind of social engineering attack where the perpetrator carefully curates lines or information, makes it appear legal, and then sends it out to its target. It can be an impersonation of the law enforcing bodies, your tax officials, hospital staff, etc.
A lot of homework goes into an attack like this, where the attacker takes time to gather all sorts of information on its target. Through this, they can create fake notices, forms, emails, etc. forcing the person to correspond and comply.
You know the time when you tail a car or a vehicle in order to get the best parking spot or to achieve something? This is known as tailgating. It’s a simple yet strategic kind of social engineering attack.
The attacker can use any means to get close to an individual or subject by tailing them. It can be used in circumstances where an intruder can follow someone to a high-profile building.
When the person enters the gate, the intruder automatically runs to the door and illegally enters. The same can be done online. When you tailgate a person while they’re using their banking app or other sensitive platforms and gather information in such close proximities.
You could say that Piggybacking is a lot similar to tailgating. However, in this kind of social attack, the individual awarely leads the intruder into their bank details and other sensitive information.
For example, it’s a lot like taking the blame for someone even if you’re not wrong. You only did it out of courtesy because the guilty came up with some sad and convincing story.
If we make our way to a professional setting, the intruder can easily guilt trip a careless guard into giving them a spare access key; claiming that they work for the company and that they left their access card somewhere else.
But, how can the guard easily give access? The intruder did a little digging, gathering as much information as possible, and used it to the best of their ability.
Scareware is one of the most widely used social engineering scams. You’ve probably gotten or seen some notifications telling you that your device is infected with malware. It prompts you to click on certain links, leading you to install actual malware or other kinds of threats. Another variation of scareware is known as a rogue scanner, fraudware, or deception software.
When you enter certain websites, you might have seen some pop-up banners, etc. telling you that your device is infected and that you need to download a cleaner or install security software – recommended by the attacker of course.
Other than that, there are emails and text messages that contain trails of scareware. There was an incident at an office where a new employee was sent an email telling them to pay a certain amount or be exposed to their employers. Out of fright, the employee complied with the demands without thinking twice, because who wants to lose their job, right? That was a small example of a ransomware attack, also another counterpart of scareware.
Another kind of phishing attack is called Whaling. However, Whaling is a kind of social engineering attack that is used to catch big fish with just one net. These attackers target high-profile personas, large enterprise companies, or someone from higher ranks – like a CEO.
If you’re wondering how it works, well the attackers first spoof the email addresses of top-priority individuals at a workplace, or of an agency or company, etc.
Within the email sent, they make it sound like a do or dye situation, making it sound very time-sensitive. If the attack is successful, the victim can lose a large portion of sensitive data and get into real hot water.
If you use Facebook or the latest name switch to Metaverse, then you might be aware of this type of social engineering attack. Have you ever received a message from a friend that says “watch this video, I think you’re in it?” That’s also a kind of virus that gets sent to all contacts and not from your actual friend.
When you click on the link or video, malware or other kinds of threats will spread through and infect your device.
Quid pro quo
The actual meaning of quid pro quo is to grant someone something in return for meeting certain demands. In the same way, a quid pro quo is used as one mechanism of social engineering attacks.
For instance, let’s say you want your device fixed, and contact some IT specialist you just met on the internet because the service is cheaper. The attacker then “fixes” the device but in actuality installed malicious software on the person’s device to take over it or get out information.
Similarly, it can be anyone telling you that you’ve won a free medical checkup, and to avail of it, you have to offer your details like account information, addresses, passwords, etc. In return? You get nothing but stolen information.
The honey trap is usually a sticky pot to trap people or insects from being tempted by the honey. However, in this circumstance, this social engineering attack is one where the attacker pretends to be emotionally or sexually involved with another person online.
In this situation, the attacker asks his/her “partner” to send either explicit images or videos in the hopes of using it against them. If not this, then the attacker asks the person to send some sensitive information that can later be exchanged for money.
Last on the list of types of social engineering attacks, we have Watering Hole. This kind of attack targets websites or services that gather a large number of users. When the user signs in to his/her account, all the information entered can be logged or stored within that infected website.
Protection Strategies to prevent social engineering attacks
You now have a full glimpse of what social engineering attacks are and their types. However, there will come a day that you might encounter one or two since not everyone is safe online.
However, for this reason, we’ve also devised a few protection measures that can help prevent these attacks. Here’s what you can do about these attacks:
Keep asking questions even though there are no doubts
It’s never a shame to ask questions, especially if someone is asking you for banking details and other kinds of personal information. Once you ask your questions about what and why certain data needs to be provided, make sure you keep a strong ear out for the answers.
Re-check the identity of the person you’re talking to
If someone sends you emails, text messages, or calls asking for your information; if they’re claiming to be someone you know, like from the bank or from your company, make sure you ask for the person’s details. Check to see if the person actually exists, instead of being pulled into an online scam.
Look for mistakes
Not every attacker is skilled in the English language or any language really. Look for spelling or grammar mistakes. Check for punctuation marks etc. If something seems off or not very professional, skip complying. If it’s important, you will get contacted again.
Use a VPN service
This measure is one of the best ones. Firstly, a VPN, short for Virtual Private Network, is designed to protect users online, their data, and maintain privacy.
There are additional perks, like accessing US Netflix or other streaming services, but security is the number one benefit. FastestVPN offers security features that are top-notch. It can even help prevent you from clicking on random links from various malicious pop-up ads.
Protect your device and software
A VPN can help protect your device or your browsing with an extension for it, but it’s not the only thing you should be interested in. Use a strong password, anti-virus software, 2FA, and other kinds of necessary precautionary measures. Instead of heading to websites just on any browser, make sure you go for only the most secure browsers that are popular.
And that’s a wrap. You now know some types of social engineering attacks that are currently hitting users worldwide. At the same time, you also have inside knowledge on how to tackle some of these with our guide on how to stay protected. Either way, make sure you stay vigilant and connect to a VPN service for better online protection.