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What Is Social Engineering: Recognizing Psychological Hacks

August 10, 2023

In today’s digital age, it’s not just technical vulnerabilities that can put us at risk. Social engineering, a sneaky form of manipulation, poses a serious threat. In this article, we’ll break down social engineering in simple terms, helping you understand what it is and how to spot these psychological hacks.

What is Social Engineering?

Social engineering is a psychological manipulation technique used to deceive people into disclosing confidential information or performing actions that are not in their best interest. Attackers use a variety of tactics to exploit human behaviour and emotions, such as fear, urgency, greed, or curiosity, to gain access to sensitive information or resources. Examples of social engineering attacks include phishing, vishing, pretexting, baiting, and tailgating. Social engineering attacks can be carried out through various channels, such as phone calls, emails, social media, or in-person interactions, and can target individuals or organizations of all sizes.

Spotting The Signs

Signs of social engineering can include:

  • Urgency and Fear: Watch out for messages that make you feel rushed or fearful, as they often try to manipulate your emotions and prompt impulsive actions.
  • Unusual Requests: Be skeptical of unexpected or strange requests, especially if they involve giving out personal information or money. Take your time and investigate further.
  • Inconsistent Communication: Pay attention to spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, or inconsistencies in emails or messages. These red flags could indicate fraudulent attempts.
  • Lack of Personalization: Generic or impersonal messages that don’t address you by name or provide specific details related to your account or situation.

Examples & Scenarios

Here are five scenarios of social engineering:

1. A cybercriminal calls a bank employee, pretends to be a customer, and asks the employee to reset their account password. The employee, not realizing it’s a social engineering attack, complies and gives the attacker access to the customer’s account.

2. An attacker creates a fake job posting on a popular job search website, and uses it to lure applicants into revealing their social security numbers and other personal information as part of the “application process.”

3. A hacker poses as an IT administrator and sends a phishing email to employees, warning that their email accounts have been compromised and that they need to change their passwords immediately. The email includes a link to a fake login page that the hacker uses to steal the employees’ credentials.

4. A hacker impersonates a senior executive and sends an email to an employee in the accounting department, requesting an urgent wire transfer. The email appears to come from the executive’s real email address, and the employee, under the pressure of urgency, complies with the request, thereby transferring the company’s funds to the attacker’s account.

5. An attacker poses as a police officer and calls the target using a spoofed or untraceable phone number, making it appear as an official call from the police. The attacker then creates a sense of urgency and fear by informing the target they are investigating a serious financial crime that requires the target to cooperate immediately. The attacker states that to assist the investigation, they need the target’s bank account details (including account number, login credentials, and a One-Time Password (OTP) sent to the target’s phone). When the target obeys and provide these information, the attacker is able to gain access to the target’s bank account and transfer funds to their own account.

Defending Against Social Engineering Attacks

Defending against social engineering attempts requires attentiveness and critical thinking. Here are some tips:

  • Knowledge is Power: Educate yourself about social engineering tactics and stay informed about the latest scams. Being aware of the risks will help you stay one step ahead.
  • Verify and Authenticate: Before sharing sensitive information or performing tasks, independently verify the request through trusted channels. Don’t solely rely on the information provided in the communication.
  • Stay Secure: Use strong and unique passwords, and keep your devices and software up to date. These measures can help protect against social engineering attempts.


Social engineering tricks people’s minds instead of computers, making it a significant threat in our digital lives. By understanding the basics of social engineering and being vigilant for common signs, you can better protect yourself from falling victim to these psychological hacks. Remember to trust your instincts, question suspicious requests, and prioritize your online security.