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Art of Cyber Deception: Social Engineering Techniques & How to Avoid Them

Social engineering attacks exploit the weakest link in any cybersecurity system: the human factor.

In the opening months of 2023, the cyber world witnessed a shocking surge in the frequency of social engineering attacks. Novel social engineering attack emails shot up by 135%, targeting thousands of unsuspecting individuals and organizations​​. This dramatic escalation sends a clear message: the tactics used by cybercriminals are evolving, and the battleground of cybersecurity is shifting in unprecedented ways.

Today, social engineering — the psychological manipulation of individuals into revealing confidential information — has been supercharged by advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning. These technological leaps have enabled threat actors to craft attacks that are eerily legitimate-looking, for example, using “sophisticated linguistic techniques” like larger text volume, longer sentence length, and better punctuation in emails. 

In this blog, we explore this new breed of social engineering attacks, understand how they're reshaping the world of cybersecurity, and consider some best practices that will help enterprises protect themselves better.

The Shape-Shifting Threat: Understanding Modern Social Engineering

Social engineering, at its core, is an art of manipulation – tricking individuals into revealing sensitive data, like passwords and credit card numbers, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity. It's not a direct hack into systems but a hack into the human mind, exploiting our tendency to trust. Social engineering works because it taps into the science of human motivation. Here are some of the most common tactics employed:

  1. Mimicking trusted entities to impersonate organizations or individuals that have earned the victim's confidence or command a level of respect or apprehension. This familiarity can lull victims into a false sense of security, causing them to follow directions without questioning their legitimacy.
  2. Provoking panic or time pressure to use people’s instinctive reactions to stressful or time-sensitive situations. By fabricating crises, such as warning the victim of a computer virus, they aim to prompt hasty decisions that bypass usual security precautions.
  3. Exploiting need or greed by promising large financial gain; for instance, the infamous 'Nigerian Prince' scam that offers substantial monetary rewards in return for personal banking details. This leverages a common desire for money to convince people to part with information.
  4. Leveraging helpfulness or curiosity to get people to click on a malicious link or download malware. For example, an email seemingly from a colleague needing technical assistance or an invitation to complete a survey.

In the past, social engineering attacks were often crude and easily spotted. An email riddled with typos and grammatical errors, or a phone call from a 'Nigerian Prince' promising unimaginable wealth, were clear red flags. But with the dawn of AI and ML, these attacks have undergone a chilling transformation. AI, with its capacity to mimic human behavior and automate tasks, has supercharged social engineering techniques. Cybercriminals are now able to craft highly personalized and convincing phishing emails, pretexting scenarios, and more. These AI-powered attacks are often indistinguishable from genuine interactions, making them dangerously effective. 

This is the reality of modern social engineering: attacks that are so sophisticated and authentic-looking that traditional methods of detection just don’t cut it. This doesn't mean we should abandon these methods altogether — there's still value in maintaining a vigilant eye for unusual requests or inconsistencies. However, it underscores the need for more advanced strategies and tools that can keep pace with these shape-shifting threats.

Five Common Social Engineering Techniques

As we traverse the evolving landscape of social engineering, it's crucial to understand the common techniques that cybercriminals employ. The rise of AI and technology has led to the evolution of these techniques, making them more sophisticated and harder to detect. Here, we will take a closer look at five such techniques and how AI can play a role to make them even more formidable.


Phishing attacks involve tricking the recipient into revealing sensitive data, such as login credentials, by impersonating a legitimate entity. Recently, T-Mobile fell victim to a massive data breach, which impacted 800 of the company’s customers. A data breach notification letter revealed that customer contact information, ID cards, and social security numbers were scraped from PIN-protected accounts​. The incident highlights how a seemingly innocent email can lead to catastrophic consequences. 


Pretexting is a form of social engineering where attackers create a fabricated scenario or 'pretext' to manipulate the victim into providing information – like a scammer impersonating a supply chain partner, a tactic that's becoming increasingly prevalent. Of late, there has been a growing trend of supply chain partner or vendor impersonation, where attackers pose as trusted partners to elicit information or assistance in bypassing security controls. One survey in May 2022 found that external, third-party impersonation made up 52% of all “business email compromise” attacks. 


Baiting uses a false promise to pique a victim's greed or curiosity, leading to a trap that steals personal information or inflicts damage. A recent example involves malicious QR codes. When scanned, these QR codes connect phones to a malicious destination, similar to clicking on a bad link. “Often the code will lead to a dodgy site which downloads malware to their phone,” says Oz Alashe of CybSafe. 


A slightly different type of pretexting, scareware involves tricking the victim into thinking their computer is infected with malware, urging them to install software that is actually malware. A recent trend is the use of browser notification hijack. Attackers abuse the website notifications, which appear more like system messages from the device itself. Once the users approve these notifications, they start receiving phishing schemes or scam notifications that contain malware. “Even for users who don’t blindly say yes, scammers find ways to install their notification scripts” – using tactics like a CAPTCHA, or switching the “accept” and “decline” buttons on subscription alerts mid-action.


Deepfakes use AI to create hyper-realistic but entirely fabricated images or sounds. In the realm of social engineering, deepfake audio or video could be used to impersonate a trusted individual and trick the victim into carrying out actions that benefit the attacker. In one such case, a fake recording of a CEO's voice was used to instruct an employee to transfer money to an international account, resulting in a loss of $243,000​.

Defending Against Social Engineering

Social engineering attacks exploit the weakest link in any cybersecurity system: the human factor. Despite advances in technology, this vulnerability remains, and as social engineering techniques become more sophisticated, the need for defense measures becomes more urgent. To effectively combat social engineering, a multi-faceted approach is required, combining human training, cybersecurity technology, and regular penetration testing and audits.

Human Training

A well-informed workforce serves as a vital pillar in upholding an organization's overall cybersecurity posture. Therefore, educating users about social engineering techniques and how to spot them is an important first step in defense. In an era where sharing personal data has become a routine part of online transactions, users often overlook the potential risk involved in giving out innocuous details like their phone number or birth date, which can serve as a gateway for hackers to breach accounts. Regular and comprehensive training sessions combined with the establishment of robust data security policies are key to empowering employees to not only safeguard their sensitive data but also recognize and promptly report any potential social engineering threats.

Penetration Testing and Audits 

Regular testing and audits of your systems can identify vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. Penetration testing, in particular, can simulate social engineering attacks to see how well your defenses hold up in practice.

Cybersecurity Technology 

While awareness and training are crucial, they may not be enough. Attackers are continually evolving and refining their tactics, and humans are fallible and can make mistakes, especially when under pressure or when the attack is highly sophisticated. Endpoint protection, secure email gateways, and automated threat protection solutions are critical to creating a robust defense against social engineering attacks. 

Evren: Your Automated Security Sentinel

At Evren, we understand that staying ahead of these threats is key to safeguarding your business. Our enterprise desktop operating system is designed as a cybersecurity solution with a strong emphasis on threat detection and mitigation. It offers comprehensive endpoint security; critical security features such as URL Filtering and Multifactor Authentication; and a zero-trust approach that adheres to the least privilege principles, monitoring employee activity and managing access privileges. 

Built to minimize endpoint attacks and reduce end-user negligence, Evren can proactively block or identify social engineering attacks as they happen and rapidly react with an automated incident response plan to prevent damage.

Need help fortifying your defenses against social engineering attacks? See how Evren can help