Unmasking Social Engineering Attacks: Types and Prevention Techniques

What you need to know to strengthen your human firewall and keep your data safe

Written by Vaultree Team

May, 17 2023 in Cybersecurity

What is Social Engineering? 

Social Engineering is the act of tricking or manipulating someone to access confidential information. When a malicious actor tries to infiltrate protected computer systems and compromise sensitive data, or when an individual uses phone calls, emails or social media to trick people into giving away their information, we're talking about social engineering. It also usually involves some emotional urgency that causes people to fear, panic or believe some kind of misleading communication.  

To put it in perspective, according to IBM's 2022 Cost of a Data Breach report, the average data breach cost with social engineering as the initial attack is over $4 million. To make things worse, social engineering breaches were also harder to track and contain. The report shows it took around nine months to identify the breaches (201 days) and stop them (69 days). 


Types of Social Engineering Attacks

As cybercriminals become more sophisticated, they manipulate human psychology to gain unauthorised access to sensitive information, networks, or systems. Let's dig into different types of social engineering attacks and best security practices to avoid becoming a victim.


Phishing is one of the most common social engineering techniques. Cybercriminals send emails, text messages, or direct messages that appear to be from a legitimate source, enticing victims to provide sensitive information or click on malicious links. Prevention Tips:

  • Verify the sender's email address and look for inconsistencies
  • Be cautious with unsolicited emails or messages
  • Hover over links to see the actual URL before clicking
  • Use two-factor authentication to protect your accounts

Read Also: https://www.vaultree.com/blog/phishing-explained-what-you-need-to-know-to-protect-your-data/  


Pretexting involves creating a fictional scenario or impersonating a trusted individual to manipulate victims into divulging sensitive information or granting access to resources. Prevention Tips:

  • Verify the identity of the person contacting you through a trusted channel
  • Be cautious when sharing personal information over the phone or online
  • Train employees on company protocols for handling sensitive information


Baiting lures victims with the promise of a reward, such as free software or a gift, in exchange for sensitive information or access to a system. Prevention Tips:

  • Be wary of too-good-to-be-true offers
  • Download software only from trusted sources
  • Verify the authenticity of any unsolicited offers or promotions

Quid Pro Quo

Quid pro quo involves offering a service or benefit in exchange for information or access. For example, an attacker might pose as IT support and request login credentials to "fix" a nonexistent issue. Prevention Tips:

  • Validate the legitimacy of any requests for information or access
  • Use unique and strong passwords for different accounts
  • Implement strict access controls and protocols within your organisation

Tailgating or Piggybacking

Tailgating or piggybacking occurs when an unauthorised individual follows an authorised person into a secure area, bypassing security measures such as access cards or biometric scanners. Prevention Tips:

  • Implement strict access control policies
  • Educate employees on the importance of not holding doors open for others
  • Use security cameras to monitor entrances and exits

How can organisations protect themselves from social engineering attacks and improve human firewall failures? 

Data-In-Use Encryption is a powerful security measure that protects data actively being processed or manipulated by an application. While it might not directly prevent social engineering attacks, it can significantly mitigate the impact of such attacks and improve the resilience of human firewall failures. Here's how:

Limiting Access to Sensitive Data:

Data-in-use Encryption ensures that only authorised users or processes can access and modify sensitive data. Even if a social engineering attack leads to unauthorised access to a system, the attacker would still be unable to read or use the encrypted data without the decryption key. This added layer of protection makes it more difficult for cybercriminals to exploit human weaknesses and gain access to valuable information.

Reducing the Impact of Human Error:

Social engineering usually involves preying on human psychology to cause either curiosity or fear to compromise information. Moreover, human firewall failures often occur due to mistakes or oversights, such as accidentally sending sensitive information to the wrong person. Data-in-Use Encryption can help mitigate the consequences of such errors by ensuring that sensitive data remains protected even when unintentionally exposed. Only individuals with the proper decryption keys can access the encrypted data, reducing the risk of unauthorised access or data leakage.

Enhancing Compliance and Regulatory Requirements:

Organisations are subject to various data protection regulations, such as GDPR, HIPAA, or PCI DSS, which require strict security measures to safeguard sensitive data. Data-in-use Encryption helps organisations comply with these requirements by adding an extra layer of security to protect data during processing. By implementing Data-In-Use Encryption, organisations can demonstrate their commitment to data protection and avoid fines or penalties for non-compliance. This also helps improve the organisation's overall security posture against social engineering attacks and other threats.

Encouraging a Culture of Security Awareness:

A risk-aware culture ensures all employees are on alert and aware of cybersecurity risks. Hence, they know how to identify suspicious activities and report incidents, making employees less susceptible to social engineering attacks. Implementing Data-In-Use Encryption highlights the importance of data protection within an organisation, encouraging employees to be more mindful of their actions and decisions when handling sensitive data. 

Protecting Data in Third-Party Environments:

Sometimes, organisations need to process their data in third-party environments, such as cloud-based applications or services. Data-In-Use Encryption ensures that the data remains protected even when processed outside the organisation's direct control. This reduces the likelihood of data breaches or unauthorised access due to human firewall failures or social engineering attacks targeting third-party service providers. In conclusion, while Data-In-Use Encryption cannot directly prevent social engineering attacks, it can significantly mitigate their impact by adding an extra layer of protection to sensitive data during processing. By limiting access to sensitive data, reducing the impact of human error, enhancing compliance, fostering a culture of security awareness, and protecting data in third-party environments, Data-In-Use Encryption helps organisations strengthen their human firewall and improve their overall security posture against social engineering threats.


How Vaultree's Plug-and-Play SDK can help 

Vaultree's solution is designed to be plug-and-play and can be integrated into existing data pipelines without any company infrastructure changes and complex intermediaries. 

It provides complete privacy and security for sensitive data, ensuring it always remains protected. This solution unlocks the full potential of sensitive data, allowing companies to generate insights and analytics that were previously impossible. It is also significantly faster than traditional encryption methods with no noticeable delays in data processing speeds compared to processing unencrypted data, enabling companies to extract insights and analytics from their data more quickly. 

Vaultree's Fully Functional Data-In-Use Encryption can help organisations strengthen their information security posture, manage risks, and demonstrate compliance with ISO 27001's cryptographic control requirements. 

Contact our team today and embrace a future where your sensitive information is always protected. 

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