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Understanding & Defending Against Social Engineering Attacks



In today’s interconnected digital world, cyber threats continue to evolve, and one of the most effective methods employed by hackers is social engineering. 


In this article, we will explore the various social engineering techniques, shedding light on how these tactics work and the importance of staying vigilant to protect ourselves from falling victim to such attacks.


Unlike traditional hacking techniques that rely on technical expertise, social engineering exploits human vulnerabilities to deceive individuals and gain unauthorized access to sensitive information or systems. This form of manipulation preys on our trust, curiosity, and willingness to help, making it a potent tool in the hands of cybercriminals. 


In the crypto industry, the goal of social engineering is to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data, cryptocurrency wallets, or accounts, or to trick victims into downloading malware onto their computers or networks, leading to further damage. 


Some common social engineering techniques include:

  • Phishing

  • Baiting

  • quid pro quo attacks

  • Pretexting, and 

  • Tailgating

1. Phishing


Phishing attacks involve malicious actors impersonating credible authority figures or organizations to deceive victims into disclosing sensitive information or providing funds. While individuals may be the direct target, attackers often aim to compromise systems that the victim has access to. If a phishing attack is successful, it can rapidly spread its consequences to affect other users and interconnected networks. Variants of phishing attacks include:

– Spear Phishing

These attacks are highly targeted towards specific individuals, organizations, or businesses. Attackers customize their emails or communications based on their knowledge of the victim’s position within an organization, making them more convincing.

– Vishing

Also known as voice phishing, vishing attacks use voice communications, particularly Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) solutions, to trick victims into calling and revealing personal information such as credit card numbers or billing addresses.

– Smishing

Smishing attacks utilize SMS or text messages to redirect victims to malicious websites or deceive them into sharing sensitive personal information.


2. Baiting

Baiting attacks exploit victims’ greed or curiosity by offering a tempting incentive. For example, an attacker may leave an infected USB stick in a public place, hoping that a victim will insert it out of curiosity, thereby unknowingly installing malware onto their system. Online ads can also deceive victims by promising quick cash payouts in exchange for creating an account with their sensitive personal information.


Peer-to-peer (P2P) websites are also targeted by baiting attacks. Scammers might entice users with the promise of free movie or music downloads, causing some users to drop their guard and disclose their banking information. Victims who provide their banking information in exchange for deals, quick investment returns, or free cash prizes may find their accounts depleted once the information is shared.


3. Quid Pro Quo Social Engineering Attack

Imagine you receive a phone call from an individual who claims to be conducting a survey on behalf of a well-known crypto company. The caller explains that they are gathering feedback to improve their products and services. As a token of appreciation for your time, they offer you a free premium software license key.


In return for this “reward,” the caller requests your assistance in gathering some information. They ask you to provide your company email address, username, and password to access a supposed test version of their software. They assure you that this is necessary for the research and data collection process.


Unbeknownst to you, the person on the other end of the line is not a representative of a legitimate software company. Instead, they are a skilled social engineer who aims to exploit your trust and obtain sensitive information for malicious purposes.


Quid pro quo attacks resemble baiting schemes as they involve a fraudulent exchange. Attackers promise rewards or offer participation in a research study in exchange for valuable company data. They may also pose as internal IT staff, offering assistance with a problem or software security protection in return for personal information or other sensitive data.


In this example, the quid pro quo social engineering attack involves a fraudulent exchange of a valuable software license key for your personal login credentials. By presenting themselves as a representative conducting a legitimate survey, the attacker manipulates your willingness to participate and the desire to receive a free software license. However, once they obtain your login credentials, they can gain unauthorized access to your company’s systems, compromising sensitive data, and potentially causing significant harm.


It is important to remain cautious and sceptical when faced with such requests, even if they appear to offer attractive incentives. Legitimate organisations rarely require personal login credentials as part of a survey or research study. Always independently verify the authenticity of the request before sharing any sensitive information.


4. Pretexting


Pretexting occurs when an attacker assumes the identity of a trusted figure, such as a bank official or a law enforcement officer, to elicit personal information from the victim under the pretext of verifying their identity. For example, an attacker might contact an individual, pretending to be a bank representative, and request their social security number or ID number or BVN for “verification purposes.”


Another pretexting scenario involves scammers posing as friends on social media, claiming to be stranded and in urgent need of emergency funds. They might also masquerade as representatives of political campaigns or charities, seeking support for a cause. In each case, the attacker manipulates the victim psychologically, making them believe they are fulfilling their obligations or helping a friend in need.


5. Tailgating or Piggybacking


Tailgating or piggybacking attacks require physical access to a building or restricted area containing secure information. Criminals take advantage of someone holding the door open and follow them into a secure building, bypassing the building’s security protocols. Security-conscious companies often train their employees about tailgating attacks, along with other social engineering techniques, to ensure awareness and prevent such breaches.


Whether you work in the financial sector, such as a bank or cryptocurrency exchange, or simply have accounts with these institutions, it’s crucial to stay vigilant and informed about social engineering attacks that could compromise your personal accounts. By being aware of the various techniques employed by attackers, you can better protect yourself and your sensitive information.


How to defend against these attacks


One must exercise a healthy dose of scepticism to prevent falling prey to phishing attacks. If you receive any unexpected communication that requests sensitive information or makes urgent demands, be sure to verify its legitimacy. You can easily do so by contacting the organization or person independently, rather than clicking any links or downloading suspicious attachments that may contain malware. It’s also important to change and update passwords regularly, and consider implementing two-factor authentication to stay one step ahead of malicious actors.


To avoid baiting attacks, proceed with caution when encountering tempting offers that seem too good to be true. Refrain from sharing personal or financial information in exchange for promises of rewards, cash prizes, or unrealistic deals. Also, avoid plugging unknown USB devices into your computer and refrain from providing sensitive information on untrusted websites or to unfamiliar individuals.


To protect against quid pro quo attacks, keep in mind that legitimate organizations will never ask for sensitive data in exchange for services or rewards. Be skeptical of unsolicited offers and always verify the identity of individuals claiming to represent reputable companies or institutions. Never share personal or confidential information with anyone unless you have independently confirmed their authenticity.


Detecting pretexting attacks can be challenging because they often involve the impersonation of trusted individuals or organizations. It’s important to exercise caution when providing personal information over the phone, especially if you receive unexpected calls requesting sensitive details. To confirm the legitimacy of any request, it’s recommended that you initiate contact with the organization directly using verified contact information whenever possible.


Physical access to secure areas can make in-person social engineering attacks, like tailgating or piggybacking, possible. To prevent such breaches, it’s important to follow security protocols and be cautious of individuals who try to exploit your trust or goodwill to gain unauthorized entry. Avoid holding the door open for people you don’t recognize and never allow strangers into restricted areas without proper authorization.



Most of us are familiar with the concept of large-scale social engineering attacks, but we often struggle to grasp the extent to which these attacks can damage our personal and professional lives. It’s crucial to recognize that anyone can fall victim to well-crafted social engineering techniques, which can wreak havoc on our reputations, families, and businesses. Even a small mistake on our part can have a profoundly destructive impact. Therefore, it is imperative to remain vigilant in order to safeguard and protect sensitive data. By staying informed, staying alert, and prioritizing our safety, we can effectively counter these threats.


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