Social engineering is the art of manipulating people to obtain confidential information or gain access to protected computer systems. Rather than exploiting technical vulnerabilities, social engineering attacks focus on the weakest link in the security chain: human beings.

This article will explore 50 different social engineering tactics, providing a comprehensive overview of these threats and how to prevent them. But first, let’s understand what social engineering is all about.

What is Social Engineering?

Social engineering is a psychological manipulation technique used to trick people into divulging confidential information or taking actions that compromise information security. Social engineering attackers exploit human vulnerabilities, such as trust, fear, or curiosity, rather than attempting to directly breach the technical safeguards of information systems.

These attacks can take many forms, from phishing emails and deceptive text messages to elaborate pretexts to gain physical access to secure buildings or personal information. The ultimate goal is to gain unauthorized access to the data or resources of an organization or individual, often for fraudulent or malicious purposes. Awareness and education are critical to recognizing and preventing social engineering tactics.

Read also: What is Cybersecurity

50 Social Engineering Tactics

  1. Phishing: Fraudulent emails that induce victims to reveal sensitive information by clicking on links or opening malicious attachments.
  2. Spear Phishing: A targeted form of phishing aimed at a specific person, often using personal information to make the attack more credible.
  3. Vishing: Phone frauds where the attacker poses as an authority or trusted company to obtain confidential information.
  4. Pretexting: Creating a false pretext to induce victims to disclose sensitive information.
  5. Baiting: Offering incentives to victims to lure them into performing specific actions, such as downloading malware.
  6. Tailgating: Gaining physical access to a facility by following someone authorized without permission.
  7. Water Holing: Compromising websites known to be frequented by the target to infect them with malware.
  8. Quid Pro Quo: Offering something to the victim in exchange for information or access, often in the form of free technical assistance.
  9. Shoulder Surfing: Directly observing someone else’s sensitive information, such as passwords or PINs, by looking over their shoulder.
  10. Dumpster Diving: Searching through waste for useful information, such as paper documents or undestroyed electronic devices.
  11. Impersonation: Pretending to be someone else, such as an employee or technician, to gain access to information or restricted areas.
  12. Tech Support Scams: Simulating technical support to induce victims to install malware or disclose sensitive information.
  13. Trojan Horses: Software that appears legitimate but contains hidden malicious code.
  14. Smishing: Similar to phishing but conducted via SMS or other text messages.
  15. Pharming: Redirecting victims to fraudulent websites by manipulating DNS or similar vulnerabilities.
  16. Eavesdropping: Intercepting others’ communications, whether verbal or digital, to gather sensitive information.
  17. Man-in-the-Middle Attacks: Interception and possible alteration of communications between two parties without their knowledge.
  18. Insider Threats: Threats coming from within the organization, often from current or former employees.
  19. Reverse Social Engineering: Inducing victims to contact the attacker for assistance, thereby obtaining information or installing malware.
  20. Physical Security Bypass: Evading physical security measures to access protected data or systems.
  21. Romance Scams: Sentimental frauds where the attacker pretends to have a romantic relationship to obtain money or information.
  22. Lottery Scams: False lottery winning announcements that require further details or payments from the victim.
  23. Fake Charities: Pretending to represent a charity to obtain donations or personal information.
  24. CEO Fraud: Pretending to be a company executive to induce other employees to transfer money or divulge company information.
  25. Business Email Compromise (BEC): Compromising business emails to execute fraud involving fund transfers.
  26. Clickjacking: Overlaying illegitimate content on authentic website buttons to trick victims into performing undesired actions.
  27. Website Cloning: Creating fake websites that mimic legitimate ones to steal login credentials or other sensitive information.
  28. Identity Theft: Using stolen personal information to impersonate someone else, often to commit other frauds.
  29. Brand Spoofing: Illegitimate use of well-known brands to deceive victims into trusting a false representation, online or offline.
  30. Ransomware Attacks: Locking victim data with a ransom demand for its release.
  31. Malvertising: Creating online advertisements with malicious intent that can teach malware.
  32. URL Obfuscation: Using confusing or masked URLs to trick victims into believing they are visiting a legitimate website.
  33. DNS Spoofing: Manipulating DNS tables to redirect web traffic to fraudulent sites.
  34. Social Media Impersonation: Creating fake social media profiles to deceive or spy on users.
  35. Sextortion: Manipulating victims using explicit content to extort money or other concessions.
  36. Fake Job Offers: Fake job offers used to obtain personal information or money from victims.
  37. Credential Stuffing: Using stolen credentials to access various accounts, exploiting common or reused passwords.
  38. Invoice Manipulation: Altering invoices to induce victims to pay into accounts controlled by attackers.
  39. Data Diddling: Altering data before or during input into the system to commit fraud.
  40. Influence Operations: Organized campaigns to manipulate public opinion or behavior through disinformation or other tactics.
  41. Psychological Manipulation: Using psychological techniques to influence victims’ decisions and behavior.
  42. Phishing Kits: Pre-packaged kits sold to attackers to facilitate phishing attacks.
  43. Trojan Malware: Software that appears legitimate but contains malicious code designed to steal information or harm systems.
  44. Remote Access Trojans (RATs): Malware that enables attackers to gain remote control of the victim’s computer.
  45. Keyloggers: Software or hardware that records every keystroke to steal information such as passwords and other sensitive data.
  46. Browser Hijacking: Compromising the victim’s web browser to redirect traffic to malicious sites or display unwanted advertisements.
  47. Wi-Fi Hacking: Compromising Wi-Fi networks to intercept communications or access protected systems.
  48. Bluetooth Hacking: Exploiting vulnerabilities in Bluetooth devices to gain unauthorized access or steal data.
  49. USB Drop Attacks: Distributing infected USB drives in public areas, hoping someone will pick them up and insert them into their computers, thus installing malware.
  50. QR Code Spoofing: Creating fake QR codes that redirect victims to malicious websites to steal information or distribute malware.

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Human nature is often the weakest point in security networks. Understanding the various social engineering tactics is essential to defend against attacks. Education, awareness, and solid security practices can significantly contribute to protecting individuals and organizations from these increasingly sophisticated threats.

Always remember to stay vigilant and be skeptical of suspicious requests, as security starts with you.

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