22 April 2024

Attackers are always getting smarter, even when firewalls are in place and passwords are getting better. Instead of taking advantage of technology flaws, they are now focusing on a more sneaky target: people. People use our natural trust, interest, or even fear to trick us into giving out private information or clicking on harmful links. This is called social engineering.

The numbers paint a worrying picture. Verizon released a study in 2023 that said 82% of data breaches were caused by people, with social engineering being the most common method. Imagine getting a call from someone you don't know who said they were from your bank's "fraud department" and needed to see information about your account to "verify suspicious activity." This is a standard case of social engineering, in which someone tries to look like a trustworthy source to get your trust and personal information.

The Social Engineering Toolkit (SET) goes one step further in this kind of trickery. It is an open-source framework made just for penetration testing, a method security experts use to find holes in a system's defenses by simulating hacks. It's like having a toolbox full of ready-made phishing emails, website copy templates, and even ways to pretend to be someone else on social media. If you have a skilled security professional, SET can be a great way to find holes in an organization and teach workers how to be more vulnerable to social engineering.

However, the same things that make SET a powerful testing tool can also be used against it. It can be used to start real-world attacks by people who shouldn't have it, leaving users open to losing money, having their identities stolen, and a lot of other security problems. This is a scary warning that as technology changes, so do how people try to take advantage of it. Using tools like SET to learn the art of deception helps us stay one step ahead, but it also shows how important it is to be aware of and careful with safety in this digital age.

Different Kinds of Social Engineering Attacks

This part talks about some of the most common methods that use social engineering. These methods are designed to take advantage of weaknesses in people to get useful information from them.

Spam emails (phishing)

When going after businesses, phishing is very common. Most of the time, attackers do this by sending emails that ask the receiver to download an attachment or click on a link. This can give the attacker remote access or let them install malware.

Hitting Vishing

Vishing is done over the phone. The attacker claims to be someone else to get the victim to do what they want.

Example: An attacker pretends to be from the technical support team and calls an employee to ask for help getting rid of malware. The attacker then tells the employee what to do to give the attacker direct access to their device.

Baiting Attacks

Baiting means making a tempting offer to the target in exchange for their action. This kind of attack can happen anywhere, not just online.

For example: the attacker tells the target that they will give them a big prize if they download an app that is a trojan that is used to do bad things.

Shoulder Surfing

To get PINs, passwords, and other private information using this method, you have to watch someone closely. Attackers could see what keys are being pressed on a gadget or hear private conversations.


People often use impersonation to get into places that aren't supposed to be visited.

Example: If an attacker knows that a company is expecting quality testers, they might pretend to be one to get in. They can get to private data that could be used in more attacks once they get inside.

These techniques show how sneaky and deceptive social engineering can be, stressing the importance of constant security knowledge and vigilance in businesses.

Learning How to Use Social Engineering Techniques

Social engineering is a set of carefully planned steps used to get people to share private information. The difficulty of these steps can change based on the goal, but they usually go in a certain order:

Collecting information

  • Actively gathering information: For this direct method to work, you need to talk to the target in person or over the phone.
  • Gathering information passively: In this method, which is more covert, there is no direct contact. Instead, it uses information that is open to everyone, like social media profiles, to find out about the target's work, family, interests, and more.

Calling up

For the FBI, elicitation means using normal talk to get information sneakily. How to use elicitation effectively:

  • Make your goals clear: Before you start talking to someone, know what information you need.
  • Take note: Look at the target's mood and behavior to figure out how to best approach them.
  • Get involved and listen: Let the conversation flow easily and let the target talk about anything they want.
  • Strategic Exit: End contacts without making people wonder about the people involved or the information that was shared.

Covering up

Making up a situation or name to get someone to reveal information or do something is called pretexting. People often use this method when a social engineer pretends to be someone in charge, like a bank employee, to get private information.

Tricks for the Mind

Make the target feel at ease during the conversation to control it. By watching their body language and facial expressions, you can figure out how they're feeling and change your plan to fit. Mirroring these small facial movements can also make the target feel more at ease, which can lead to a stronger connection.

Making a case

People who are persuaded well not only do what they are asked, they do it willingly and even with gratitude. This means making up a story that makes the target think that following your advice is a good idea.

Each of these methods shows how complex the planning is behind social engineering. People and groups can better protect themselves against these kinds of threats if they know how they work.

Attacks that use social engineering

Social engineering attacks come in many forms and use a variety of tricks to trick people who aren't paying attention. Here are some examples that stand out:

How to Fix a Bad Resume

A man trying to be a job applicant walks up to the front desk of a business and says that he spilled coffee on his resume. Then he convinces the person working at the front desk to print a new copy from a USB drive he gives them. When the USB is connected to the company computer, it could install malware or let someone join to the company's network from afar.

The Scam Awaits Sports Fans

An attacker changes how they attack based on the target's hobbies, like sports fandom. The person gets a fake email that gives them a special chance to win tickets to see their favorite team play. The target might click on the registration link without thinking because they are so excited. There are, however, hidden parts on the login page that are meant to steal the user's information.

As you can see, these examples show how social engineers use personal events and emotional responses to get people to break security.

Wrapping Up

The social engineering toolkit shows how sophisticated modern cyber threats are by using tricks on people to get around protection. To make strong defenses against these clever threats, you need to understand how they work. This toolkit takes advantage of people's psychological weaknesses to get them to reveal private information or let others in without permission. So, companies should make it a priority to teach their workers how to spot and fight these kinds of methods. This level of readiness can be raised by spending money on regular security awareness programs and simulating social engineering situations. The risks of these attacks can also be lowered by putting in place strict entry controls and improving technical defenses. In the end, being alert and learning are the most important things. People and businesses can better protect themselves from the constantly changing world of cybersecurity risks by learning about social engineering toolkits via SafeAeon.

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