Ethical Hacking Tutorial

What is Social Engineering in Cybersecurity? Types of Social Engineering Attacks and Techniques


What is social engineering in cyber security? What are the different types of social engineering attacks? How many social engineering techniques are there?

If these are your questions, then this write-up has the answer in the most simple terms. As part of our comprehensive ethical hacking tutorial for beginners, we have so far also covered some crucial topics that you will find informative. 

Some of the most important ones include what is ethical hacking, different types of hacking attacks, footprinting techniques, etc.

Here, let us understand the meaning of social engineering in cybersecurity and its types in detail. Let’s get started!

What Are Social Engineering Attacks?

Social engineering in cyber security is an attack where hackers manipulate users to find access to their confidential and private data. Social engineering attacks can take place online, offline, or personally. 

The attackers understand the user behavior and use techniques to manipulate them and make them expose restricted systems. Not everybody is aware of malicious techniques like drive-by downloads or the value of private information like mobile numbers. 

Hackers use the lack of knowledge of users to exploit their information. I hope, you now know the meaning of social engineering attacks in cyber security.

Different Types of Social Engineering Attacks in Cyber Security

There are several types of social engineering attacks that you must know.

1. Baiting

Hackers today use several types of baiting schemes by putting up a freebie or exciting offers before the users. For example, they can show some free gift cards or vouchers and ask for credentials to claim the same. When users enter the credentials, their accounts are compromised. 

2. Scareware

In scareware, the attackers bombard the targets with false alarms and threats. The users believe that their systems are affected by viruses or other malware. In order to get rid of that malware, they are made to install the tools or software. This software doesn’t do anything beneficial but inject the malware.

An example of scareware is on websites that show popups that the system of the user is infected with a virus and then suggest a tool to fix it. So, scareware is a social engineering technique that scares users and makes them install malicious software or apps.

3. Pretexting

One of the common social engineering types, pretexting attacks, are launched when the hackers pretend to be someone with authority, like a police officer or an auditor. They make up a scenario to fool the users and make the users compelled to meet the requirements. 

4. Phishing

Phishing is one of the most popular types of social engineering, where attackers send malicious emails to users. Through these emails, they pretend to look like a trusted party or source and make users click on malicious links or download malware attachments.

For example, someone sends you an email pretending to be your bank. They may ask you for your contact details, bank account number, etc., for identity verification. However, when you send the details, your data can be stolen, or they can cause financial loss. 

5. Vishing

Vishing is similar to phishing, but here the attacker calls the users over a phone and pretends to be a trusted source. Not everyone is aware of the best security practices and hence share the information with them, which they shouldn’t. This is among the top types of social engineering attacks.

6. Smishing

Smishing is a type of social engineering attack which is carried out through SMS or text messages. 

7. Tailgating

In tailgating, the attackers follow the path of the user to a reserved or locked area. When the users access or open the door to their authorized area with their credentials or badge, the attackers get a look inside before the door closes.

8. Piggybacking

In piggybacking, the malicious person gets approval from the authorized user to access the reserved area. However, the user doesn’t know about the intention of the malicious person.

9. Quid Pro Quo

Quid pro quo means ‘something for something’. Here, the attackers ask for something to help the users with something. For example, an attacker can reach out to a company and pretend to be from an IT company to fix some technical issue. 

To resolve the issue, they can ask for some credentials. It is a conventional way to find credentials and gain access to important accounts. You must have a clear idea of such types of social engineering attacks.

10. Man Traps

It is an access control system having two interlocking doors and some space. Here, one set of doors will be closed before opening the other, to ensure that the man or the individual is trapped for a moment in the enclosed hallway before passing the door. Both sets of doors can’t open simultaneously. 

11. Biometrics spoofing

Biometrics has become a convenient way of identity verification today as users don’t need to carry physical documents or remember passwords. Using fingerprints, eyes, or face recognition, the identities can be verified.

However, these are not completely secure. Hackers can spoof the biometric sensors and hack the fingerprints. Moreover, if biometrics are compromised, users can’t change it because it doesn’t have a password.

12. Cloning attack

Cloning is a kind of phishing attack which means that the attackers create clones of original email messages from a trusted company. Then, they modify the content and add malicious links or redirect users to fraudulent websites. 

This technique can be used to send bulk emails to hundreds of users. Hackers then look out for the users who become victims. 

13. Rogue Attacks

Rogue attacks happen through rogue access points in a router. If an access point is misconfigured or doesn’t follow security practices, it leaves the doors open to attacks on the network.

To know about different enumeration techniques in ethical hacking, check the linked write-up.

Different Social Engineering Techniques

Social engineering can be physical, wireless, as well as automated. Let’s dive into the various techniques of social engineering.

1. Physical Social Engineering

Physical social engineering attacks are those where the attacker is there in person with the employees of a company under the radar. Such attacks happen in fewer numbers but have the potential to cause enormous damage. 

For example, an attacker can pretend to be an IT person to check the devices on a network or server. By doing this, they can compromise the entire network or several systems of a company. 

2. Wireless Social Engineering

In wireless social engineering, hackers create a clone of a wireless network. When the users connect with this network, the browsers redirect the users to malicious websites. 

It is not a widespread technique, but many hackers use it to find the login credentials of the users on a network. 

3. Automated Social Engineering

Hackers have become advanced enough to automate several social engineering attacks. They use AI bots and other tools to monitor the social media profiles of users, call people while impersonating someone, etc. It saves them time and brings more attack opportunities.

To know about different footprinting techniques, check the linked write-up.

What is Social Engineering Toolkit (SET)?

The Social Engineering Toolkit or SET is developed by TrustedSec and used to do penetration testing for social engineering attacks. 

It has become a standard tool for penetration testing and finds various types of social engineering attacks that can cause harm to individuals and businesses. It is an open-source tool having more than 2 million downloads. 

Since most social engineering attacks are difficult to detect, SET can do a great job protecting such threats.

Top Social Engineering Tools

Apart from SET, there are a number of trusted tools that can help in preventing social engineering attacks.

1. Maltego

It is an open-source tool for the intelligent investigation of information and relationships between users and assets. It finds the link between the email addresses, screen names, etc., and the service or the company. 

Maltego helps in detecting social engineering attacks by raising security awareness and showing the links between the assets and the individuals. 

2. Wifiphisher

This tool is great for finding the threats against Wi-Fi systems. Hackers try to compromise a Wi-Fi network and attack the users accessing the network. Using this tool, it becomes easier to find whether a Wi-Fi network is compromised to carry out social engineering attacks. Wifiphisher is among the top tools for social engineering.

3. Metasploit MSF

Metasploit is used for penetration testing and is handy for finding and validating vulnerabilities. It is another popular tool for identifying different types of social engineering attacks on a server. 

4. MSFvenom Payload Creator (MSFPC)

A user-focused tool, MSFPC helps in building payloads for Windows, Linux, and Android systems. Users just need to define the payload for the platform to run the tool. 

Countermeasures: How to Prevent Social Engineering Attacks?

Here are some tips and ways to avoid social engineering attacks:

  • Provide employees training about verifying the identities of users over the phone or personally.

  • Store confidential documents securely and use techniques like shredding and incinerating.

  • Double-check the information in the emails. Avoid clicking the email links. Instead, visit the website through Google or bookmarks.

  • Don’t share confidential information without verifying their identities.

  • Set values for the types of information to maintain high security.

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