Social engineering is a malicious method of psychological manipulation aimed at tricking people to divulge confidential information, directly or indirectly. In other words, social engineering is a type of attack that involves deceiving and manipulating people to get access to sensitive data or secure systems.

The objective of social engineering attacks is to take advantage of the human factor of security, which is often the weakest link. Hackers use various social engineering tactics to exploit people's natural tendencies, emotions, and behavior to successfully penetrate their target's security defense.

As technology advances, so do the methods of social engineering, making it increasingly difficult for even the most technologically sophisticated companies to protect themselves fully. Therefore, it's essential to understand what social engineering is, how it works, and how you can protect yourself against it.

Types of Social Engineering Attacks

Social engineering attacks come in various forms and can be conducted in different ways, depending on the attacker's goals and environment. Here are some of the most common types of social engineering attacks:


Phishing is a type of social engineering attack that involves the use of fraudulent emails, text messages, or websites to trick people into divulging sensitive information such as passwords and credit card numbers. Phishing attacks can also be used to deliver malicious code that can compromise the security of an organization's systems.

Spear Phishing

Spear phishing is a more targeted type of phishing attack that involves crafting a personalized message that appears to come from a trusted source. The attacker typically uses information gathered from social media or other public sources to make the message more convincing, increasing the likelihood that the victim will fall for the scam.


Baiting is a type of social engineering attack where attackers offer victims something of value in exchange for sensitive information. For example, an attacker may leave a USB stick labeled "Confidential" lying around in a public place in the hopes that someone will pick it up and plug it into their computer, inadvertently infecting it with malware.


Pretexting is a type of social engineering attack that involves creating a false narrative or pretext to trick someone into divulging sensitive information. This type of attack is often used when the attacker needs to gain the trust of the victim before asking for sensitive information.

Quid Pro Quo

Quid pro quo is a type of social engineering attack that involves an attacker offering something of value in exchange for sensitive information. For example, an attacker may call an employee pretending to be an IT support technician and offer to solve a problem in exchange for the employee's login credentials.

Examples of Social Engineering Attacks

Social engineering attacks can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time, and can have severe consequences for both individuals and organizations. Here are some examples of social engineering attacks that have made headlines in recent years:

The Target Data Breach

In 2013, cybercriminals used a spear-phishing attack to gain access to Target's point-of-sale systems, compromising the credit and debit card information of more than 40 million customers. The attackers created a false narrative that appeared to come from a trusted vendor, tricking Target's employees into downloading malware that allowed the attackers to steal customer data.

The Twitter Bitcoin Scam

In July 2020, a massive social engineering attack targeted high-profile individuals on Twitter, including Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Barack Obama. The attackers used a spear-phishing attack to gain access to Twitter's internal systems, which allowed them to take control of verified accounts and tweeted a Bitcoin scam, netting more than $100,000 in Bitcoin from victims.

The F31 Club Attack

In 2018, attackers used a baiting attack to compromise the security of the F31 Club, a private forum frequented by car enthusiasts. The attackers created a fake account and offered members free car parts in exchange for sensitive information, leading to a data breach that exposed the personal information of more than 400 members.

How to Protect Yourself Against Social Engineering Attacks

Protecting yourself against social engineering attacks requires a combination of education, awareness, and technical measures. Here are some tips to help you protect yourself against social engineering attacks:

Be skeptical of unsolicited messages: Be wary of messages from unknown or untrusted sources, especially ones that ask for sensitive information or request that you click on a link or download an attachment.

Verify requests for sensitive information: If someone contacts you asking for sensitive information, verify their identity by calling them back on a verified phone number or email address.

Use two-factor authentication: Two-factor authentication provides an additional layer of security that can help prevent unauthorized access even if an attacker has your password.

Keep your software up to date: Keeping your software up to date with the latest security updates and patches can help protect you against known vulnerabilities that attackers may exploit.


Social engineering attacks are a serious threat to individuals and organizations worldwide. Understanding how these attacks work and taking steps to protect yourself against them can help prevent the theft of your personal information, sensitive data, and other assets. By staying skeptical and informed, you can reduce your risk of falling victim to social engineering attacks and maintain your privacy and security online.

What is a zero-day exploit?

In the realm of cyberattacks and computer security, a zero-day exploit is the most feared type of attack. A zero-day exploit is a type of cyberattack that takes advantage of a software vulnerability that the software vendor is not yet aware of. Consequently, the vendor has not had the opportunity to release a patch or an update that would fix the vulnerability. This gives the attacker an advantage over their target as the target has no chance of being prepared nor able to defend against the attack.

Zero-day exploits are called so because they occur on the very same day that the software vulnerability is discovered and are exploited immediately. This means that the target organization or individual has no time to prepare for the attack, let alone defend against it.

Historically, the term zero-day refers to the days between the discovery of the vulnerability and the release of the vendor's patch. Zero-day attacks were relatively rare until the 2000s when cyberattackers began using them more frequently.

So how does a zero-day exploit work?

When a developer discovers a vulnerability in software, they report it to the software vendor. These vulnerabilities may be discovered by researchers examining the code of software or through the use of automated security tools.

Once the software vendor gains knowledge of this vulnerability, they develop a patch or an update that addresses the issue. If an attacker gains knowledge of the vulnerability before the vendor, they may use it to their benefit to cause major damage to the target. The attacker would create malware or a malicious code that exploits the vulnerability. They then wait for the right moment to launch the attack most likely for financial gain.

Nowadays, zero-day exploit attacks are no longer the realm of governments and only the most sophisticated hackers can carry them out. They are now sold on the dark web, which means that less technical but malicious persons who can afford it, can purchase these exploits and execute attacks successfully.

Real-life examples of zero-day exploits

While zero-day exploits can be elusive and hard to detect, they can cause significant damages that take a lot of time and effort to remedy. There been several high-profile examples of zero-day attacks over the years, which include:

Stuxnet – One of the most famous zero-day attacks is the Stuxnet worm. It was designed to damage Iran's nuclear program. It managed to spread to computers across the globe and caused physical damage to the centrifuges in Iran's nuclear facilities.

WannaCry – This was a ransomware attack that used a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows to spread itself across networks. The attackers demanded a payment of $300 in bitcoins to restore an individual's files, and more than 300,000 computers were infected.

Equifax data breach – In 2017, Equifax, one of the largest credit bureaus in the US, announced a data breach that exposed the personal details of over 147 million Americans. The company suffered this attack through a vulnerability in their web application software that was exploited using a zero-day exploit.

How can you protect yourself against a zero-day attack?

As we’ve seen, zero-day attacks can be devastating, and in most cases, they are not the average hacker. When an attacker chooses to launch a zero-day attack, they would have conducted extensive research and know their target inside and out. Therefore, it’s essential to take proactive measures to reduce the risk of being exploited.

Limit software installation – It's always a good practice to only install software that is necessary to do your job; any additional software on your system creates more opportunities for vulnerabilities to exist.

Keep your software up to date – Regularly updating your software ensures that the latest patches are applied, and your systems are best prepared to protect against the most recent exploits discovered.

Virtualize applications – Virtualizing applications minimizes the attack footprint. Doing this makes it harder for attackers to gain entry, and any vulnerabilities will not give them access to the underlying operating system.

Use multi-factor authentication – Using multi-factor authentication ensures that hackers cannot gain access to your sensitive information even if they have your password through phishing or other means.


A zero-day exploit is undoubtedly the nightmare of any cybersecurity professional and organization. Attackers use them to gain an advantage over their targets and cause damage that can take years to remedy. While zero-day exploits can be severe, there are ways to reduce the risks of a successful attack. Proactive measures like keeping software up to date, implementing multi-factor authentication, and limiting software installation can go a long way in keeping your organization safe. Cybersecurity professionals must continue to monitor this threat in an ever-evolving world of cyberattacks and protect against these dreaded zero-day exploits.

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