July 1

Social Engineering is the New Normal: Understanding and Defending Against Human Hacking

In the digital age, cyber threats have evolved significantly, and one of the most insidious forms of attack is social engineering. This tactic exploits the weakest link in security—human psychology. This blog explores what social engineering is, provides real-world examples, and offers insights on how to defend against this pervasive threat.

What is Social Engineering?

Social engineering involves manipulating, influencing, or deceiving a victim to gain control over a computer system or steal personal and financial information. It relies on psychological manipulation to trick users into making security mistakes or giving away sensitive information. Unlike traditional hacking, which targets systems, social engineering targets the people who use those systems (CMU).

Common Social Engineering Techniques

Several methods are commonly used by social engineers to deceive individuals and gain access to sensitive information. Here are a few examples:

  1. Phishing: This involves sending fraudulent emails that appear to be from reputable sources to induce individuals to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers. Phishing emails often create a sense of urgency, compelling the victim to act quickly without verifying the source (CMU) (CMU) (Cisco Blogs).
  2. Pretexting: In this scenario, the attacker creates a fabricated scenario to obtain the victim's information. For instance, they might pose as a bank representative needing to verify account details (CMU).
  3. Baiting: This technique involves offering something enticing to the victim, such as malware-infected USB drives left in public places, hoping someone will pick them up and plug them into their computer (CMU).
  4. Tailgating: Here, the attacker follows someone into a restricted area without proper authorization, often by taking advantage of someone's courtesy to hold the door open for them (CMU).
  5. Scareware: Victims are bombarded with false alarms and fictitious threats, prompting them to install software that grants remote access to the attacker (CMU).
  6. Dumpster Diving: Attackers search through garbage for sensitive information that has not been properly disposed of, such as bank statements or pre-approved credit cards (CMU).
  7. Quid Pro Quo: This involves an attacker offering a service in exchange for information. For example, posing as a technical support person offering to fix a computer problem in exchange for login credentials (CMU).

Real-World Examples of Social Engineering Attacks

Several high-profile incidents underscore the effectiveness of social engineering:

  • The Twitter Bitcoin Scam (2020): Hackers used social engineering to gain access to Twitter's internal systems by targeting employees. They then hijacked high-profile accounts to post fraudulent Bitcoin giveaway messages, resulting in significant financial loss and reputational damage (Cisco Blogs).
  • The Google and Facebook Scam (2013-2015): A Lithuanian scammer tricked employees of Google and Facebook into wiring over $100 million to bank accounts under his control by sending fake invoices and posing as a legitimate vendor (CMU).

How to Defend Against Social Engineering

While social engineering relies heavily on human psychology, several strategies can help mitigate its risks:

  1. Education and Awareness: Regular training sessions can help employees recognize and respond to social engineering tactics. Awareness programs should emphasize the importance of verifying the identity of individuals requesting sensitive information (CMU) (Cisco Blogs).
  2. Robust Policies and Procedures: Implementing and enforcing strict security policies, such as two-factor authentication and regular password updates, can reduce the likelihood of successful attacks (CMU) (CMU).
  3. Incident Response Plan: Having a well-defined response plan can minimize damage when an attack occurs. Employees should know the steps to take if they suspect they've been targeted by a social engineering attempt (Cisco Blogs).
  4. Technological Solutions: Tools such as email filtering, intrusion detection systems, and endpoint protection can help detect and block social engineering attempts before they reach the intended target (Cisco Blogs).


As cyber threats continue to evolve, social engineering remains a significant concern for individuals and organizations alike. By understanding the tactics used by social engineers and implementing comprehensive security measures, it is possible to reduce the risk of falling victim to these manipulative attacks. In an era where social engineering is becoming the new normal, vigilance and proactive defense are key.

Protect your data and reputation with our 12-step guide. Read "Securing the Digital Frontier: A 12-Step Guide to Safeguarding Your Data and Reputation" and take control of your online security today!


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