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3 Types of Social Engineering Attacks and How to Avoid Being a Victim


Cybercriminals are constantly looking for opportunities to exploit the weakest link in the users' security chain. Social engineering attacks are a method hackers employ to make the gullible divulge organizational information or sensitive personal data.

This blog post outlines three types of commonly seen social engineering attacks and preventative measures you can take to avoid becoming a victim.

What are social engineering attacks?

Social engineering attacks refer to a broad range of attacks wherein cybercriminals trick users into parting with sensitive data through human interaction using psychological manipulation. Attackers can be sneaky and find ways to connect with you online and ask seemingly innocent questions like 'what is your pet's name? or 'where were you born?'. These questions are asked with the intention of attempting to find password credentials. According to Verizon's 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report, human error accounted for 85% of breaches, of which 35% were social engineering attacks.

Types of social engineering attacks

Pretexting social engineering attack

Pretexting is a sophisticated social engineering technique where the attacker collects information through cleverly-crafted lies in the form of a story or pretext. The perpetrator weaves a web of falsehoods to play up to the sense of urgency and gains their trust by devising imaginary situations. The attacker pressurizes the victim by impersonating police, co-workers, bank, or other persons in authority, whom general users cannot refuse. Pretexting attacks have become more sophisticated as attackers have figured out that the more specific information they know about you before making contact, the more valuable information they can convince you to give up.

Phishing attack 

Phishing is a widely-known social engineering attack where attackers use emails and text messages to create a sense of curiosity, fear, or urgency. Phishing is a fraudulent technique of communicating digitally with fake pages that looks legitimate or seem to have come from a legitimate source. The goal of phishing is to steal sensitive data and credentials like login details, credit card information or phone numbers. It is a direct challenge to password-based authentication. Phishing has become more sophisticated as some emails contain malicious links or attachments, into which the attacker binds malware that will keep sending sensitive victim credentials to them.

Spear phishing and proxy phishing are more advanced phishing techniques. In spear phishing, attackers tailor the fraudulent message based on the victim's job positions, characteristics, knowledge, and contacts. In the case of proxy phishing, the attackers rely on malicious proxy auto-configuration. Such attacks can also bypass OTP-based two-factor authentication.

Baiting attack

In a baiting attack, the attacker makes a false promise to stimulate the victim's greed or curiosity and uses it as a means to steal sensitive data or plant malicious programs into their systems. The attacker studies the target and identifies its weak points. Such attacks have become more sophisticated with the advent of data analysis and machine learning algorithms. Cybercriminals leverage data analysis to predict the next item the victim will choose to buy from e-commerce websites. That's when they lure you in with fraudulent discount coupons and malicious links and advertising by putting deceptive ads on the page to entice you to click them. As soon as the victims bite the bait, they unwittingly install malware on the system or are forcibly taken to a malicious site. According to Proofpoint's report, The Human Factor, 99% of cyberattacks are attributable to social engineering techniques, which trick users into installing malware.

Preventive Measures 

Here are some essential tips for users to avoid being a victim of a social engineering attack:

  1. Do not open emails, attachments, or links that arrive from unknown sources or email addresses

  2. It is always safer to leverage multi-factor authentication (MFA) for every login

  3. Be wary of tempting offers made through phone calls, messages, or emails that show a sense of urgency

  4. Keep up with regular pentests to mitigate potential security risks


Social engineering is a powerful tool that attackers use to exploit human weaknesses. It is important to be aware of the different types of social engineering attacks and the preventive measures that can be taken to avoid them. Awareness and education are the best defense against these attacks.

Packetlabs is a team of ethical hackers who are cybersecurity experts. We can help you assess your organization's susceptibility to social engineering attacks and provide tailored recommendations to mitigate the risks. Contact us today to learn more.