How Cybercriminals Use Social Engineering: Tactics and Protection

Salomon Kisters

Salomon Kisters

Jun 19, 2023

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In today’s digital age, cybercrime has become more prevalent than ever before. Hackers and cybercriminals are constantly finding new and inventive ways to access user information, networks, and systems. One of their most commonly used tactics is social engineering.

Social engineering is the art of manipulating people into divulging confidential information or performing actions that are not in their best interest. It uses psychological manipulation to trick victims into providing access to sensitive data or to install malicious software. From phishing attacks to baiting and pretexting, cybercriminals use various techniques to exploit human nature for their gain.

In this blog post, we will explore how cybercriminals use social engineering and how you can protect yourself against these attacks.

Exploiting Human Emotions and Behaviors

Cybercriminals are experts in exploiting human emotions and behaviors to achieve their malicious goals. They use a wide range of social engineering techniques that exploit the natural human tendency to trust and help others. For instance, phishing attacks use social engineering to create a sense of urgency or fear to prompt a quick response from the victim. The attacker sends an email or message that appears to be from a legitimate source such as a bank or an email service provider and asks the victim to click on a link or provide their login credentials.

Another technique used by cybercriminals is baiting. It involves leaving a tempting item such as a flash drive or a CD in a public place and waiting for someone to pick it up. The item is usually labeled in an enticing way such as “Employee Salaries” or “Confidential”. Once the victim plugs the device into their computer, it installs malware that allows the attacker to take control of the system.

Pretexting is another method that cybercriminals use to manipulate people into revealing sensitive information. This technique involves creating a false scenario or identity to gain access to privileged information. For instance, an attacker may pose as a bank agent and ask the victim to confirm their account details or login credentials over the phone. They may also impersonate a trusted colleague or a senior executive to persuade the victim to grant them access to confidential data.

Gathering Personal Information through Social Media

Social media is an excellent platform for cybercriminals to gather personal information about their victims. Many people share intimate details of their lives online, including their location, interests, favorite foods, and more. Cybercriminals can use this information to create a profile of their target and launch a highly personalized attack.

One way cybercriminals gather information is by creating fake profiles. They use these profiles to befriend their targets and gain access to their personal information. They may also send malicious links or attachments disguised as friendly messages to trick victims into revealing their login credentials or downloading malware.

Another way is by monitoring social media activity. Cybercriminals can track a target’s activity and use the information they find to craft a highly targeted attack. For instance, if a victim posts frequently about travel plans, cybercriminals could use this information to create a phishing email that appears to be from a travel agency offering a discount.

Additionally, social media platforms themselves can be a source of personal information for cybercriminals. Social media companies gather vast amounts of data about their users, including their browsing habits, search history, and even location data. This information can be sold on the dark web or used to launch targeted attacks.

In short, social media is a goldmine of personal information for cybercriminals. It is essential to be mindful of what you share online and take steps to protect your social media profiles. This includes adjusting your privacy settings, being wary of unknown connections, and not sharing personal information in public forums.

Phishing: A Commonly Used Method

Phishing is a commonly used social engineering method in which cybercriminals pose as legitimate entities to trick their targets into revealing sensitive information. This can be achieved through various means, such as email, instant messaging, or social media messages.

In a phishing attack, the victim is typically sent an email that appears to be from a legitimate source, such as a bank or an online retailer. The email will usually contain a sense of urgency, urging the recipient to take action immediately. The message will often contain a link to a fake website that looks identical to the real one. Once the victim enters their login credentials or other sensitive information, the cybercriminal can use it for their own purposes.

Phishing attacks can also be delivered through social media platforms. Cybercriminals can create a fake profile and initiate a conversation with the target, building a sense of trust before requesting sensitive information.

Phishing attacks are highly effective because they exploit human psychology. They rely on the victim’s trust in the apparent legitimacy of the message, and their fear of missing out on a critical opportunity.

To protect themselves from phishing attacks, users must be vigilant and cautious of any unsolicited messages requesting sensitive information. Always verify the identity of the sender and check the URL of any link before clicking on it. Users should also enable two-factor authentication and keep their software and security updates current to mitigate the risk of cybercriminals exploiting security vulnerabilities.

Pretexting: Gaining Trust to Obtain Sensitive Information

Pretexting is another commonly used social engineering method that involves creating a fabricated scenario or pretext to gain the trust of the target and then obtain sensitive information from them. This technique can involve a lot of research and planning by cybercriminals to make their story convincing enough to trick the target.

For example, a cybercriminal might pretend to be an employee of a company, such as the IT department, and contact an employee to request their login credentials or other sensitive information. They might use a fake identity, such as a false name or job title, and create a sense of urgency to pressure the employee into providing the information.

Pretexting attacks can also take the form of a phone call or a face-to-face conversation. Cybercriminals can create a plausible story to convince the target that they need to disclose confidential information, such as bank account details for a refund or personal information to access a particular service.

Pretexting attacks are successful because they exploit the human desire to be helpful and cooperative. By appearing trustworthy and convincing, cybercriminals can manipulate their targets into revealing sensitive information.

To protect themselves from pretexting attacks, users should be cautious and avoid disclosing sensitive information to anyone who seems suspicious or who cannot verify their identity properly. Users should also be aware of the various tactics used by cybercriminals, such as creating a sense of urgency or using a fabricated pretext, and should learn to identify these warning signs.

Tailgating and Baiting: Physical Social Engineering Tactics

Cybercriminals don’t just rely on digital techniques to steal sensitive information; they also use physical social engineering tactics like tailgating and baiting. These tactics involve gaining access to restricted areas and obtaining sensitive information through social interaction in person.

Tailgating is when a cybercriminal follows or piggybacks behind someone who has authorized access to a restricted area. This technique is commonly used in office buildings where employees use key cards to enter specific areas. For example, a cybercriminal might wait outside an office building and follow an employee into the building without having their own key card, gaining access to a restricted area.

Baiting is another physical social engineering tactic that uses the promise of a reward or other incentive to trick someone into providing sensitive information. For example, a cybercriminal might leave a USB drive labeled “Confidential” in a public area, hoping that an employee will pick it up and insert it into their computer. Once the USB drive is inserted, it can install malware or provide the cybercriminal with access to the employee’s device.

Both tailgating and baiting rely on the manipulation of human behavior to gain access to restricted areas and sensitive information. Cybercriminals who use these tactics take advantage of people’s helpful nature, curiosity, and desire for rewards.

To protect themselves from physical social engineering tactics like tailgating and baiting, users should be aware of their surroundings and not let strangers enter restricted areas or borrow equipment. Users should also not pick up any unknown USB drives or other devices that are left in public areas, as they could be baiting tactics. It’s important to be cautious and not allow strangers to take advantage of your helpfulness or curiosity.


As we have seen, cybercriminals use various social engineering tactics to trick users into divulging sensitive information or gaining access to restricted areas. The key takeaway is that these attacks rely on manipulating human behavior, including helpfulness, curiosity, and the desire for rewards.

To combat these attacks, it’s important to be aware of the tactics cybercriminals use and to be proactive in protecting oneself. This means being cautious of one’s surroundings and not allowing strangers to follow or enter restricted areas, as well as not picking up unknown USB drives or devices that may have been left as bait.

In addition to these precautions, users should also be aware of the dangers of phishing emails and phone scams, which are other common social engineering tactics used by cybercriminals. If you stay informed and take the necessary steps to protect yourself, you can help prevent social engineering attacks and safeguard your sensitive information.

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