Social engineering attacks are popular with cybercriminals due to the low effort and high payouts involved. Unlike more aggressive methods such as hacking into a victim’s network, social engineering attacks trick the victims into lowering their digital or emotional defenses, allowing the cybercriminals to steal data or seize control of the exposed IT assets. Being familiar with the different types of social attacks – and how to neutralize them – is vital to your cyber security efforts.


phishingBecause of its ease of use and its ability to be applied on multiple platforms and media, phishing is the most common type of cybercrime. The attacker poses as a legitimate company or organization by sending a counterfeit message to the victim. The message either threatens a negative action or promises a sizeable reward in exchange for the victim providing sensitive information such as a social security number, bank account number, or password. Most phishing attacks provide a malicious hyperlink that routes the user to a fake web page where the attacker can either collect the sensitive information or install viruses and malware onto the victim’s device. Attackers prefer phishing because they can send the same message to a large group of potential victims, with only a handful of successful attacks necessary to be profitable.

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing is similar to phishing, but it is more focused on its victims. Spear phishing involves the attacker doing research on their victims in order to build trust with the victim or to exploit the victim’s weaknesses. Unlike phishing attacks, spear phishing attacks are custom-made to manipulate a singular person or group. Attackers tend to focus spear phishing attempts on groups with access to significant finances or highly sensitive data.


Vishing is a phone-centric variation of phishing. The attacker, posing as a representative of either a financial institution or a government agency, falsely threatens their victims with negative consequences unless they “verify” their identity with sensitive information. Like general phishing, vishing can be applied to a large group of potential victims, with only a small success rate necessary for the attacker to benefit.


Pharming often operates in conjunction with phishing to steal victims’ personal information. Pharming involves redirecting the victim’s web traffic from a legitimate web site to a fake destination designed to spoof the intended destination. Victims caught unaware by the fake web site risk getting infected by malware or giving their sensitive information to the attacker.

Defending Against Social Engineering Attacks

Social engineering attacks prey on the victims’ emotions and trust to override rational analyses and actions. Remaining calm and vigilant is the best defense against social engineering attacks; realizing when an offer is too good to be true or when a threat is exaggerated or illegal, robs the attacker of their advantage. Potential victims can defend against phishing-based attacks by replying to the company being spoofed instead of the sender or caller. Up-to-date cyber security software – including antiviral software, firewalls, and malware removers – can detect, prevent, and clean signs of infection. Establishing and enforcing a cyber hygiene policy for the organization can keep its employees informed and protected from a variety of social engineering attacks.

How CyberCompass Can Defend Its Clients Against Social Engineering Attacks

CyberCompass provides both education and audits to teach its clients to protect themselves from a variety of risks and threats. Our online academy educates clients about a variety of cyber security risks, how to prevent them and mitigate their effects. Combined with all of our CyberCompass features we help you identify weaknesses and create a cyber resilient culture. Contact us today to request a demo, a quote, or an over-the-phone consultation.

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