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Social Engineering: The Modern Hacker’s Toolset

Published On:
August 2, 2023
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What is social engineering?

Social engineering refers to any attempt made by one bad actor to influence another person to do something. In the case of cyber security, social engineering is commonly used as a tactic to gain access to systems or credentials that allow the hacker to carry out a malicious cyber attack.

If you are a frequent internet user, you must have encountered some intriguing pop-ups on your browser or notifications in your email like “congratulations, you just won an iPhone. Click here to claim,” which tries to lure you into interacting with corrupted links. These are a basic form of social engineering where a hacker is trying to impersonate a trusted source in order to have you give them your information or to have you access their trapped website.

Social Engineering is About Hacking Humans.

Social engineering focuses on hacking the humans that are interacting with a company’s technology. It is an art used by cyber criminals or hackers to gain access to confidential information by taking advantage of human behavior and natural tendencies. Unlike other forms of cyber attacks, social engineering uses psychological manipulation and human interaction to trick users into making security mistakes and divulging sensitive information.

Humans are generally regarded as the most vulnerable link in the cyber security chain. For example, getting a company user or employee to leak passwords or vital information is much easier than encrypting a code or extracting that information through brute force or other means.

According to research, socially engineered human errors account for over 70% of all cyber-attacks. Hackers feed on emotions like fear, greed, curiosity, and sometimes ignorance to convince people to click suspicious links they usually wouldn’t.

Social engineers typically follow these well-planned procedures to carry out their malicious activity;

  1. Identify their victim and perform thorough background research to find out how to manipulate them psychologically.
  2. Build a level of trust through communication. The hackers engage them with captivating stories or offers that may seem too good to be true.
  3. Trick the victim into clicking a misleading link that redirects them to a malicious site or a clone of another legitimate site.
  4. Extract their information and clear all traces.

Types of social engineering

Hackers can conduct Social Engineering attacks anywhere human interaction is involved. There are several types of social engineering, each with its unique system of “hacking the human.” See them below:


Phishing is an all-too-common social engineering attack. In this case, the victims are made to release confidential information that could be used against them or a larger entity like the company they work for. Phishing can be done with just a mobile phone and internet connection via email or text messages, through which the hackers create a sense of urgency, curiosity, or fear in the victim’s mind.

A good example would be a fake email sent to thousands of people claiming to be from a renowned bank and asking them to change some vital information like their password or date of birth for security purposes. The mail will contain a link that will redirect the victim to a clone website of the bank being impersonated, making the user believe and trust the process. Out of fear, the victim may fall into the hacker’s trap by revealing the information required on the scam site, and that’s all the hacker needs to get the data that could be worth a lot.

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing: In spear phishing, the cyber criminal targets a specific individual who possesses critical information about a company or organization to steal that secret information and use it against the company. Sometimes all they need is the login from the target or to make them install malware or spyware, which corrupts their computer and reveals significantly essential data to the hacker.

Spear-phishing attacks may take the form of an email sent to the target individual in a company. The mail may resemble one the victim typically receives, like “password expired, please reset,” creating a sense of urgency. The email carries a link or file and clicking the link redirects them to a scam site that looks exactly like the original. Whatever information the victim puts there is sent directly to the criminal. If it is a file, it may contain spyware, which, when downloaded, gives the hacker access to the victim’s computer and all data. The hacker may sell the information collected to the company’s rival or use it to steal money directly from the company.


Whaling: Unlike phishing, which targets a larger audience, whaling or whale phishing is a dangerous cyber-attack that targets only high-profile individuals like politicians, celebrities, or chief (c-suite) executives in a company. This attack usually aims to trick the victims into authorizing a wire transfer containing a substantial amount of money or revealing sensitive information under the guise of a reputable source, like your bank, friend, or colleague.

Surprisingly, whaling attacks are usually successful as the attackers invest time in extensive research and gathering valuable resources. The attackers sometimes use impersonation methods to disguise themselves as individuals with good relationships with these higher-ups, like family or friends. They may also take the portrait of a person in higher authority, like the CEO or CFO of their target organization or a partnering company. The data collected could be used to ask for a ransom, ruin the company’s reputation, or stop its operation altogether. High-level individuals are targeted for this due to the ease of publishing their information online, like biographies on corporate websites.


Vishing: Vishing is derived from Voice and Phish (voice phishing). It is a social engineering attack carried out via phone call; like phishing, vishing does not require a code and can be done effectively using only a mobile phone and an internet connection. In most cases, the attacker may use voice-over-internet protocol technology to create identical phone numbers and fake caller IDs to misrepresent their identity. Like all other social engineering tactics, vishing depends solely on manipulating human emotions, especially fear and greed. High-tech voice elements like automated voice simulation may make it difficult for the attackers to be traced during or after the call.


Pretexting: Pretexting could be face-to-face or over the phone; it is a method cyber-fraudsters use to strategically set up a scenario to trick people into giving out sensitive information. The fraudster may come up with quite a believable story to fool the victim into giving them access to a service or system. The critical part is to create a scenario to make the victim think they need help. In an attempt to help them, valuable information will be collected and used against the victim.

Social engineering is a colossal threat many businesses face today. Millions of dollars are being lost yearly to social scammers, and many companies have been shut down. However, you can prevent this disaster from happening in your organization. Phishfirewall is here to help.

How PhishFirewall helps businesses prevent social engineering attacks

Being able to achieve sub 1% phish click rates consistently, Phishfirewall has become the world’s most effective anti-phishing technology today, reducing the consequences of social engineering attacks for many businesses and ensuring companies’ workforces are being guarded against today’s relentless cyber threats.

  • Security awareness training: Proper security training of all your personnel can help you and your business stay out of harm’s way and save you a lot of money. Organizations must provide well-rounded awareness training programs to keep employees secure. PhishFirewall has a well-structured learning platform that offers highly grounded educational content and delivery strategies on key principles from psychology and behavioral learning sciences.
  • Our platform is specially designed to reduce staff burdens, lowering human error risks. With comprehensive onboarding and our spectacular customer success team , Phishfirewall provides a cyber awareness training and phishing simulations that are simple, elegant, and easy to deploy and monitor. On top of that, you get the best learning experience to protect yourself, your business personnel, and your organization from malicious attacks by social engineers.
  • AI-driven and adaptive phish simulations: Experience, they say, is the best teacher. However, some gruesome experiences could cost you more than you can recover. Phishfirewall offers result-driven, human-focused phishing awareness training that uses AI to automate real-time phishing simulations for trainees – offering a comprehensive and adaptive risk-free experience. AI led training tools allow for a level of speed and customization that keeps pace with the ever growing list of potential hacking methods available.
  • Human risk analytics and reporting: Phishfirewall provides relevant insights into your possible data risks and breaches. With a detailed breakdown of your risk analysis, you can get a comprehensive look at all your risks and how to prevent them. This includes risks from a macro level, like your organization’s overall risk, all the way down to the micro level with the risk scores of every individual user in your organization.

Before it gets to the point where you are trying to recover from a massive loss due to a cyber-attack, why not prevent it now with Phishfirewall’s cost-effective anti-phishing training platform? Click here to schedule a free demo.