In the realm of cybersecurity, the term ‘social engineering’ often echoes ominously. It’s a phrase that encapsulates an array of tactics employed by cybercriminals, using manipulation and deceit to trick unsuspecting individuals into revealing confidential information. Contrary to popular belief, the biggest threats in cybersecurity are not just about complex codes and high-tech computer hacks. Sometimes, they’re about the age-old art of manipulation, exploiting human psychology.

What is Social Engineering?

Social engineering is a strategy used by criminals to manipulate or trick people into revealing confidential information, such as passwords or credit card numbers. It’s a psychological manipulation technique that exploits the natural tendency of a person to trust others. In the world of cybersecurity, social engineering attacks can lead to significant breaches, financial losses, and theft of personal information.

Top 5 Social Engineers in history

Here are the top five most famous social engineers in history:

  1. Kevin Mitnick: Known as the person who popularized the term “social engineering,” Mitnick was convicted of several computer-related crimes, including hacking into Pacific Bell’s voice mail computers and copying proprietary softwaresoftware Software refers to a set of instructions or programs that tell a computer or other electronic device what to do. It encompasses all the digital programs, applications, and data that are used to operate and manage computer systems and perform specific tasks, such as word processing, web browsing, or gaming. Software can be classified into various types, including system software, application software, programming software, and firmware. from some of the country’s largest cell phone and computer companies.
  2. Frank Abagnale: The inspiration for the movie “Catch Me if You Can,” Abagnale was a social engineer who convinced Pan Am employees and others that he was an airline pilot in the 1960s. By dressing in a Pan Am pilot’s uniform, he was able to fly thousands of miles for free when he was just a teenager.
  3. Charles Ponzi: An Italian immigrant to the US in 1918, Ponzi told friends that if they invested with him, he would double their investment within 90 days. His scheme involved using new money to pay off older investors, and the entire business was being run at a loss. Ponzi’s scheme was exposed in 1920, and he spent roughly a decade in prison on federal and state charges before ultimately being deported.
  4. Victor Lustig: Known as “The man who sold the Eiffel Tower,” Lustig was a European con artist who managed to convince investors in 1925 that the famous monument was being sold off for scrap. Lustig allegedly created a simple set of commandments for con men, which included: Wait for your mark to reveal any political opinions, and then agree with them.
  5. George Parker: Parker is the origin of the popular culture expression, “And if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.” He conned naive New York tourists into buying famous landmarks. He often “sold” the Brooklyn Bridge, Madison Square Garden and Grant’s Tomb by telling victims they could make money by controlling access and charging admission. Parker was convicted of fraud and died in Sing Sing Correctional Facility, up the Hudson River from New York City, in 1936.

Common Social Engineering Tactics

Here are some common tactics used by social engineers:

  1. Phishingphishing Phishing is a form of cybercrime in which attackers attempt to deceive individuals into revealing sensitive information, such as login credentials, credit card numbers, or personal details, by posing as a trustworthy entity. Typically, phishing is carried out through email or other electronic communication channels, like instant messaging or social media platforms.: This is one of the most common forms of social engineering. In a phishing attack, the attacker sends an email that appears to be from a trusted source and prompts the recipient to reveal sensitive information. For example, the email might look like it’s from your bank and ask you to enter your login details on a fake website.
  2. Pretexting: Pretexting involves creating a fabricated scenario (or pretext) to trick a victim into providing information. This tactic often involves the social engineer posing as an authority figure or trusted entity.
  3. Baiting: Baiting tactics dangle something enticing to trick victims into revealing confidential information or downloading malicious software. This could be a USB drive labeled “Confidential” left in a public place, or a pop-up ad promising a free gift if you fill out a survey.
  4. Quid Pro Quo: This involves a hacker requesting personal information from a user in return for a service or favor. For example, the hacker might pose as a tech support agent offering to fix a non-existent problem on the user’s computer in exchange for their login credentials.
  5. Tailgating: In a physical environment, tailgating occurs when an unauthorized person follows an authorized person into a secure area. In the digital realm, this could take the form of an attacker piggybacking off a user’s session to gain access to restricted resources.

The key to protecting yourself and your organization from social engineering attacks lies in education and awareness. Understand the tactics, stay vigilant, and always double-check before revealing any sensitive information. Remember, in the digital world, not everything—or everyone—is as it seems.

Want some more information on social engineering? Check out our curated social engineering playlist on YouTube: