4 Phases of Social Engineering Attacks

Social engineering attacks are on the rise! They’re strategic technique used by cybercriminals in order to gain access to your device, data or systems. It’s one of the most common forms of cyber-attacks, with 66% of cybercriminals utilising this method to execute their attacks. That’s because its much easier for criminals to manipulate employees in a business than it is to bypass or hack business technology which is becoming harder to crack.

As a result, criminals target the humans in businesses instead. They do this through realistic emails containing malicious links or via social media posts designed to grab your attention and encourage you to visit unsecure sites. Click here to find out the different types of social engineering attacks.


Every outcome for a cybercriminal is different, but usually hackers will often want to retrieve bank details, personal information, or data that could be valuable to be used for financial gain.

Some want to obtain passwords to gain access to devices or systems. Once they have access, cybercriminals can then install harmful malware onto your device, which could result in you not being able to access data or use devices.

The key to avoiding becoming a victim of social engineering attacks is to understand how they work and to educate yourself on the tactics deployed by cybercriminals to exploit you and your business. Check out the four stages behind social engineering attacks below!


The research stage is one of the crucial phases in the planning of a cyber-attack.  Hackers will often gather information for several weeks or months before implementing their attack.

They will look to exploit or find a weak link in their targets and will do this by browsing through an organisation’s website, looking for pre-existing information on the company, browsing employee social medias and uncovering public documents. This is a technique called dumpster diving.

Perpetrators will also use their expertise to assess the amount of security within an organisation, so they can identify what routes they could take to access the company’s data.

This research stage enables cybercriminals to gage the amount of planning they will have to do, which depends on the size of an organisation and their security protocols.


Once the cybercriminal believes they have all the relevant information needed for a successful social engineering attack, they will begin trying to build a relationship with their target. This is the first form of communication between the two parties and is usually a make or break stage for the cybercriminal, as the target might not trust the receiver’s initial intentions.

This phase would be considered as another key step within the process, as the relationship between the hacker and the proposed target, is an important factor in revealing how much the cybercriminal could ultimately get away with.

The hacker will try and establish a common ground with the target and generate a conversation on a personal level, so that the individual begins to trust and have confidence in the person they are communicating with. This can be done through phone calls, emails or social media and the perpetrator will maintain this for a number of weeks until they believe the trust has been established.


This stage is a natural progression from the hackers planning phase, as the cybercriminal will continue the relationship with the target.

They will integrate a tactical component to encourage the employee to gradually disclose information about the organisation.

Pre-texting is a technique commonly used by cybercriminals at this stage to try and encourage or persuade an individual to do this.

With the relevant information, a hacker can then access systems and software, which could generate a lot of issues for a business.

Cybercriminals will also send out phishing emails, which will contain harmful links or attachments which they know the target will open. They know this due to the pre-established relationship, another method for a social engineering attack.


Once the cybercriminal has built the rapport with the target, the cybercriminal will launch their attack and gain the relevant information they require to achieve their goal. Once this happens, they can then jeopardise the organisations systems and software.

This could be detrimental for a business, causing instantaneous financial implications or long-term damage where confidential information or data would be compromised.

If the hacker remains unidentified and no suspicious activity occurred during any of the four elements, it creates an opportunity for the hacker to return in the future for further interactions.

Most cybercriminals will also remove all traces of a potential attack having taken place, so that it is extremely difficult for organisations to distinguish if there’s been an attack at all. This could also then take the business longer to investigate, recover and report attacks – leading to even further implications such as fines or reputational damage.


It is extremely important to ensure your employees are equipped and the correct security procedures are in place, to prevent attacks from taking place. It is imperative for staff to remain alert and vigilant to phishing emails and other suspicious activity and only open messages which they recognise as safe.

Hackers are becoming more sophisticated in their approaches and are continuously trying to find alternate ways to trick and scam people. It is therefore vital that companies train and educate their staff and raise more awareness on cyber security as a first line of defence, to assist in keeping perpetrators at bay.

By implementing this approach, you can save time and money by minimising your chances of your company falling victim to this type of attack. Training should be woven into your employee’s everyday routines and reinforce best practice and security protocols in the workplace in order to protect your organisation from social engineering attacks.


CybSafe is a cloud-based software which supports your business to reduce social engineering attacks by training staff to identify cyber-attacks and report any unusual activity within your organisation.

CybSafe’s security training places employees at the heart of your cyber resilience strategy, instead of complying to a tick-box method training scheme.

This enables your business to transform your approach to the human cyber risk.

Here are some of the things covered by Cybsafe to help you fight social engineering attacks:

How cybercriminals target companies and the strategies they employ to achieve a successful attack.

Understanding the positives to security barriers.

How to empower employees to SPOT and STOP cyber-attacks.

Security challenges to test your knowledge.

Security tips to implement into your working routine.

register for more info on CYBSAFE

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Cyber security training doesn’t need to be time consuming or boring. Our cyber security staff training platform Cybsafe simulates real attacks and guides users through interactive training modules. It’s effective, cloud-based and promotes a shift in cyber security culture within businesses.

Call us on 0333 150 6780, email or fill out the contact form below and a member of the team will be in touch.

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