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Avast Blog_ViewPoints:Social engineering – It’s not just about phishing
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When deception is used to hack your mind

What does “social engineering” mean?

The term “social engineering” may sound arcane and intimidating, and in some ways, it is. But most of us have encountered some form of social engineering many times — on the internet, in our emails, and in newspapers and magazines. The email advance-fee scam, which most of us will remember as the Nigerian Prince email scams from years ago, is one form of social engineering — deceiving the victim into believing they have something to gain.

Phishing emails are also social engineering, posing as a trusted organization, a friend, or a colleague in order to manipulate us into surrendering information. However, it’s not as simple an equation as “social engineering equals scam.” Scams and confidence tricks must employ social engineering techniques to succeed, but social engineering is often much more complex. The ways in which attackers can trick, manipulate, and pressure people is shocking, and often sinister.

In his book How to Hack a Human: Cybersecurity for the Mind, security expert Raef Meeuwisse offers this definition: “...the act of constructing relationships, friendships or other human interactions for the purpose of enticing the recipient to perform an inadvisable action or reveal secret information.” In cybersecurity terms, this means preying on our emotional responses to make us voluntarily compromise our own security.

But social engineering exists everywhere in completely legal, even if somewhat morally dubious, ways. Marketing employs social engineering techniques to improve sales. You may have encountered a website offering a special, apparently significant discount, complete with the countdown: “Deal ends in 00:05:00”. In truth, there is no discount and the “deal” does not end; but this is an effective marketing strategy. The illusion of needing to make a quick decision and the appearance of a bargain pressure users into making a purchase they would not normally make.

And politicians and political lobbyists use social engineering techniques to get our support all the time.    
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