Think Before You Click: The Ongoing

cyber protection cyber wise guy

The article will explore why social engineering is still a dangerous cybersecurity threat in 2024, despite increased awareness. It will cover the history of social engineering attacks, common techniques used today, and notable recent breaches. The business impact of successful attacks will be discussed, along with defense best practices. The role of AI in countering these human hacking strategies will also be explored, and the article will conclude with future predictions about social engineering.

Brief History

Social engineering as a cybersecurity threat started in the 1990s with the growing use of the internet by businesses and consumers. Attackers realized they could exploit human psychology to gain access to systems and data.

In the mid-1990s, notable attacks using social engineering took place. In 1995, a Russian hacker named Vladimir Levin stole over $10 million from Citibank by exploiting the bank’s telecommunication system and pretending to be a bank officer. Kevin Mitnick also used social engineering tactics to access multiple corporate networks in the 1990s.

These early attacks showed that social engineering could bypass advanced security technologies. As the internet evolved in the late 1990s and early 2000s, social engineering threats became more sophisticated. The rise of social media platforms later provided new ways to carry out large-scale social engineering attacks on unsuspecting users.

Why Social Engineering Remains a Threat

Despite improvements in cybersecurity technology, social engineering remains an effective way for cyber attacks due to various reasons.

Human Element Still a Weakness

At its heart, social engineering takes advantage of how people naturally act to get information or access. Even if security systems get more advanced, people are often the easiest way in. Social engineers are good at manipulating and getting the responses they want from their targets. As long as people are involved, social engineering tricks can work.

Technology Not a Full Solution

While security training helps people be cautious, technology alone can’t fully stop social engineering. Crafty social engineers bypass technical controls through deceit and persuasion, focusing on human interaction rather than technical weaknesses. Therefore, technical defenses only partly manage the risk.

Social Engineering Adapts

Like other online dangers, social engineering techniques are always changing to get around new security measures. Attackers keep coming up with new tricks, like using social media to deceive people or pretending to know inside information. To be successful, social engineering tactics have to change depending on who they’re targeting and the situation. Because it’s always changing, it’s tough to completely protect against.

Even though cybersecurity has improved a lot, social engineering is still a big threat. It takes advantage of how people behave in ways that technology struggles to stop. To fight this risk, organizations need to use both technical tools and make sure people know about the danger and are watching out for it. But because people are involved, social engineering will probably continue to be a cybersecurity threat for a long time.

Common Attack Vectors

Social engineering attacks use different methods to take advantage of human weaknesses. Some common attack paths include:

Phishing, Vishing, and Smishing

Phishing is when fake emails are sent to trick people into giving away important information or downloading harmful software. Vishing is when scammers use phone calls or voice messages, and smishing is when they use text messages. They use urgency, fear, or the promise of a reward to trick people.


Attackers pretend to be IT support, executives, or government officials to trick people into giving away passwords, sending money, or allowing access. They use familiar company logos and signatures to seem legitimate.

Targeting Employees

Insiders with high access are often targeted. They can be approached openly or secretly using persuasion, threats, or appeals to their ego to gain system access.

Malicious USB Drives

Dropping infected USB drives in parking lots or mailrooms relies on people’s curiosity to harm networks when plugged in. This allows malware to be installed and access to be granted.

In general, social engineers take advantage of natural human tendencies like trust, fear, and helpfulness to weaken defenses. Teaching employees to recognize warning signs is important for protection. Improved checking of communications can also prevent attacks from happening. However, as long as people are involved, social engineering threats will continue to exist.

Notable Recent Examples

Social engineering attacks made big news in 2019 and 2020 as hackers found new ways to take advantage of people. Some of the most well-known attacks were:

  • In 2019, over $2 million was stolen from European companies after an elaborate business email compromise attack. The hackers posed as the CEO and convinced employees to wire large sums to bank accounts under their control.
  • Twitter suffered a devastating hack in 2020 when several celebrity accounts were compromised. The attackers used social engineering over the phone to gain access to an internal admin tool, then tweeted from the accounts asking for Bitcoin payments.
  • A 2020 attack on the Florida water supply saw hackers gain remote access to a water treatment facility’s computer by impersonating an employee. This raised alarms about the security of critical infrastructure.
  • Cybercriminals targeted employees at financial firms like Morgan Stanley and Charles Schwab with fake company websites in 2020. By harvesting logins, they gained access to sensitive corporate data and accounts.
  • Over 600 businesses were affected in 2019 when hackers infiltrated cloud management provider PCM, then used their access to distribute ransomware. Social engineering of technical support agents played a key role.
  • Tax software accounts were compromised in 2019 and 2020 when criminals called filers posing as IRS agents. They convinced victims to install remote access tools, enabling them to file fraudulent tax returns and steal refunds.

These examples show how social engineering keeps posing a threat to big companies, governments, famous people, and regular folks. As long as people’s natural behavior can be taken advantage of, it will continue to be a risky method for cyber attacks.

Impact on Businesses

Social engineering attacks can seriously harm businesses and organizations. The financial losses from data breaches and cybercrimes caused by social engineering can be huge.

  • Financial losses – A successful social engineering attack that leads to a data breach or wire transfer fraud can cost a company millions of dollars. According to IBM, the average cost of a data breach globally is $4.24 million. Recovering from the damage to operations, lost business and legal liabilities can put companies in dire financial straits.
  • Data breaches – Social engineering is one of the primary methods cybercriminals use to steal sensitive data from companies. Employee credentials obtained through phishing can give attackers access to customer data, intellectual property, financial information and other critical assets. For example, in the 2017 Equifax breach, hackers used social engineering to gain entry, then made off with personal data of 148 million people.
  • Reputation damage – The fallout from social engineering attacks can also do lasting harm to a company’s reputation and erode customer trust if sensitive data is compromised. News headlines about data breaches caused by human error or negligence will tarnish a brand’s image. Firms may also face scrutiny and legal action over failure to protect customer privacy if social engineering vulnerabilities are exploited. All of this can drive away business and revenue.

So, to sum it up, social engineering is a constant danger for companies and can cause serious financial, operational, and reputational harm. It’s important for employees to keep learning about security and for companies to have strong cyber defenses to fight against this threat. In today’s world, the stakes are very high for businesses.

Defending Against Threats

Social engineering is a big problem in cybersecurity because it takes advantage of the fact that people tend to trust others. Using technology is important for defense, but the best solutions involve making people more aware, setting rules for organizations, and being ready to react well if there’s a breach. Here are some important ways organizations can stay safe:

  • Employee Training – Ongoing training for employees focused on recognizing different forms of social engineering attacks is crucial. This includes raising awareness of common techniques like phishing emails, suspicious phone calls asking for sensitive data, or strangers trying to tailgate into secure facilities. Training should emphasize the importance of never providing passwords or other sensitive data without verifying the identity of the requester through a secondary channel first.
  • Technical Safeguards – While employees are the most vulnerable point of attack, technical safeguards and access controls add additional layers of protection. Multifactor authentication, strict password policies, securing WiFi networks, and logging/monitoring systems help make it harder for an external actor to gain unauthorized system access or privileges.
  • Incident Response Plans – Being prepared with an incident response plan is vital to limit damages in the event an attack succeeds. The plan should identify key members of the response team, actions to contain the breach, protocols for assessing systems for compromise, and communication plans for updating executives and customers if necessary depending on the scale. Conducting ‘fire drills’ ensures the plan will be effective when needed.

With social engineering expected to continue posing a threat to organizations for the near future, it’s important to implement strong cybersecurity practices in employee training, technical defenses, and incident readiness. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, so it’s crucial to build resilience across the organization to effectively defend against this threat.

Role of AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) is getting more important in social engineering cyberattacks and defenses. AI helps attackers create more advanced and targeted phishing campaigns. They use machine learning to analyze past targets and improve future attacks. AI chatbots with natural language abilities make it easier to trick victims into thinking they are talking to a real person. Deepfakes made with AI let attackers pretend to be trusted individuals and change audio/video content.

Defenders also use AI to make security stronger. AI can better spot phishing emails and malware than traditional filters. User behavior analytics with machine learning can find unusual activity that might mean an account is compromised. AI assistants can communicate with unknown contacts to check if they are harmful before involving a real employee.

But AI has limits in dealing with social engineering. Attackers are finding new ways to trick AI defenses by changing their methods. Human intuition and judgment are often better than AI at spotting advanced manipulation tactics. We need more research for AI to understand human interactions and emotional intelligence as well as humans do. For now, AI will stay a helpful tool in cybersecurity, but human experts will still be needed to train, watch over, and add to its abilities.

Outlook and Predictions

Social engineering is anticipated to become an even bigger cybersecurity threat in the future. As technology advances, attackers are finding more sophisticated ways to exploit human weaknesses.

One worrying trend is the use of AI and machine learning to automate and expand social engineering attacks. AI can create highly realistic fake profiles, content, and communications tailored to specific targets, making attacks much harder to detect. Defending against an AI system that learns and adapts will require new security tactics.

The spread of digital assistants, chatbots, deepfakes, and other AI technologies also broadens the scope of potential attacks. Hackers can potentially compromise these systems and use them to interact seamlessly with victims while posing as trusted entities.

As more business is done online, attempts to trick people into revealing financial account credentials and sensitive corporate data (known as phishing) are likely to increase. Attackers may increasingly target remote workers and employees using personal devices vulnerable to hacking.

As personal information becomes more common online, expect more targeted attempts to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information through methods such as spear phishing. Victims may be specifically targeted before being approached.

To defend against these advanced threats, organizations need to prioritize security awareness training for their entire workforce. Implementing strong identity verification and anti-spoofing measures will also be crucial. Ultimately, combating social engineering involves securing both technology and human weaknesses. With vigilance and proper precautions, the impact of these threats can be reduced.


Summary of key points

  • Social engineering remains a significant cybersecurity threat in 2020 and for the foreseeable future. Despite more advanced technology, human vulnerabilities create risks.
  • Attackers commonly manipulate human tendencies like curiosity, fear, trust, and greed to gain access to systems or data. Phishing emails and SMS scams are prevalent.
  • Notable cases show that even security-conscious organizations can fall victim to skillfully crafted social engineering. Multi-layered psychological tactics are often used.
  • Businesses face financial, legal, and reputational damages if sensitive data is compromised. Customer trust can be difficult to regain after incidents.
  • AI and behavioral analysis tools can help identify some suspicious activity, but human awareness and critical thinking provide the best defense.
  • Ongoing staff training, strong policies, and a vigilant culture focused on security hygiene are essential to protect against social engineering risks.

Parting thoughts on importance of vigilance

While cyberattacks keep changing, social engineering stays a constant danger. No organization is safe. Staying attentive, adjusting organizational behaviors, and fostering a careful security mindset from the top-down are crucial to protect against this human risk. By understanding vulnerabilities, working together across teams, and being appropriately skeptical, we can prevent the worst effects of social engineering. Remaining vigilant and guarding against overconfidence will be important for long-term cyber resilience.