Skip to main content


Social engineering

In the context of information security, social engineering is the psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or revealing confidential information. This differs from social engineering within the social sciences, which does not concern the revealing of confidential information. Social engineering is a type of confidence trick for the purpose of information gathering, fraud, or system access. It differs from a traditional "con" in that it is often one of many steps in a more complex fraud scheme. Social engineering happens in both the physical and digital domain or both. 

All social engineering techniques are based on specific attributes of human decision-making known as cognitive biases. These biases, sometimes called "bugs in the human hardware", are exploited in various combinations to create attack techniques. Examples are attackers that appeal to natural curiosity or helpfulness of their victims and use authority, urgency or intimidation to pressure them. The attacks used in social engineering can be applied to steal employees' confidential information. The most common type of social engineering happens over the phone (vishing), via SMS (smishing) or e-mail (phishing). Other examples of social engineering attacks are criminals posing as exterminators, fire marshals and technicians to go unnoticed as they steal company secrets. Countermeasures include training of employees or users, limit access and install additional security measures for sensitive access and information, establish security protocols, perform security reviews and test the system. 

Related Keywords: con artist, CEO fraud, phishing, spear phishing attacks, phishing emails, whaling, clone phishing, voice phishing, SMS phishing, tailgaiting.