How Can You Protect Yourself from Social Engineering?

Many organizations treat cybersecurity like they’re a king trying to prevent an invading army from breaking into the castle. However, not all malicious actors access systems by forcing their way in. Social engineering attacks trick individuals within an organization into opening the castle gate. How can you protect yourself from social engineering attacks?

What Is Social Engineering?

Social engineering is a technique hackers and other malicious actors use to access systems by exploiting human weaknesses. There are several kinds of social engineering attacks.


Baiting involves setting a trap for a user. For example, the attacker might send the user a USB stick loaded with malware. When the user connects the USB stick to their computer, it loads the malware onto the system, causing damage or providing access to the system.


In a phishing attack, the malicious actor sends a user an email that looks like it is from a trusted source, such as a well-known bank. The email contains a link that downloads malware or directs the user to a fake website collecting information. A variation of this social engineering attack, called spear-fishing, targets specific users with emails that appear to come from someone higher up in the organization.

Vishing and Smishing

Vishing and smishing attacks work like phishing but use voice calls or text messages instead of emails. Callers may pretend to be someone within the organization, such as a co-worker, manager, or member of the IT department.

Contact Spamming and Email Hacking

With a contact spamming and email hacking attack, malicious actors gain access to a user’s social media accounts or email and then send messages to their contacts that appear to be from the user. The messages may request money or information or include a link to a malicious site.


A pretexting attack lulls the user into giving up sensitive information by creating what seems like a legitimate reason for the attacker to ask for it. For example, an attacker might pose as a member of the IT department at a large company. The attacker would then ask the employee to provide sensitive information under the pretext that it is necessary to perform some IT function.

Quid Pro Quo

With a quid pro quo attack, the attacker promises the user something they want in exchange for information or access. For example, the attacker may send a malicious link promising the user some free software to download.

Scareware is a type of quid pro quo attack where the attacker sends the user a fake threat alert through an email, pop-up box, or text message and then prompts the user to contact the actor to receive a solution to the threat.

What Can You Do To Avoid Social Engineering Attacks?

Understanding how social engineering attacks work will help you and your employees spot and avoid them whenever possible. These are some precautions you can advise members of your organization to take to protect them and your organization.

Be Wary of Unsolicited Contacts

Don’t assume unsolicited communications come from the person or organization they claim to be from. Look for suspicious email addresses, generic greetings and signatures, spoofed hyperlinks, and suspicious attachments.

Ask questions. Be alert for people who don’t know the information you would expect the person they are claiming to be to know. For example, your bank already has your Social Security number and other information on file. They shouldn’t need to ask for it.

Verify Sources

Compare email headers to a known valid email from the same sender. Hover your cursor over links without clicking to see where they go.

Watch for spelling errors. If you aren’t sure the communication is legit, go to an official source, such as your bank’s official website or your IT department, to verify the sender’s identity.

Don’t Provide Sensitive Information Over Email or the Phone

Telephone calls and emails are not secure ways to transmit sensitive information. Legitimate senders know this and will not use these methods to ask for sensitive information. If you need to transmit sensitive information over the Internet, protect yourself from this social engineering attack by verifying that the website is secure by looking for the “https:” and the closed padlock icon in the URL bar of your browser.

Request ID

If someone calls you or comes to your desk asking for information, ask them for an ID that proves they are who they say they are, such as an employee badge or ID number. Then, contact the organization they say they are from to verify that the ID checks out.

Think Before Acting

Attackers often attempt to create a sense of urgency to get victims to panic into giving out information they normally would not. Think about whether the situation makes sense and take the time to verify the request is coming from a legitimate source.

If someone is pressuring you to make a quick decision, slow down the interaction. Tell the requester that you need to check with someone else, such as a manager, before responding to the request. Many attackers will give up if it seems like the intended victim is suspicious.

Assess Whether the Situation Makes Sense

Protect yourself from social engineering attacks by considering whether a request for sensitive information makes sense. For example, banks do not usually contact customers to ask for sensitive information.

Use a Spam Filter

Spam filters can detect and automatically filter out many kinds of suspicious emails, texts, and phone calls. However, these systems are not foolproof, so don’t assume everything that gets through is legitimate.

Be Mindful of Your Digital Footprint

Avoid oversharing personal information online. Many organizations use information such as the street you grew up on or your pet’s name as security questions.

Sharing this type of information online can make it easy for attackers to access your accounts. Set your social media accounts to “friends only” and avoid sharing this type of information.

Protect Your Business From Social Engineering Attacks

Now that you know how to protect yourself from social engineering attacks, you may feel overwhelmed by everything you need to do. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone.

We understand that cybersecurity is a top priority for businesses of all sizes. That’s why we offer comprehensive security awareness training designed to empower your employees to become the first line of defense against cyberattacks. This proactive approach fosters a culture of security within your organization, significantly reducing your risk of costly data breaches.

Let the team at CIO Tech do the security heavy lifting! We provide layered, holistic, and secure solutions for your cybersecurity needs. Contact us today to learn more. Now that you know how to protect yourself from social engineering attacks, you may feel overwhelmed by everything you need to do. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone.

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