Role of Social Engineering in Introducing Insider Risk

In 2013 a major US retailer was compromised through a social engineering attack. The attackers used a technique known as spear phishing to gain access to the network of a third-party vendor.

The threat actors then used the vendor’s credentials to access the retailer’s network, installing malware on the company’s point-of-sale (POS) systems. This allowed the threat actors to steal millions of customers’ credit and debit card information.

To counter such a vast attack, organizations must take a serious look at how they address Insider Risk. By implementing AI-driven tools to monitor networks for red flags and suspicious activity, Insider Risk Management becomes a powerful tool against threat actors who aim to use an “inside” connection.

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Defining Social Engineering

role of social engineering in introducing insider risk

Social engineering is something we have all heard of in recent years. The term describes a range of manipulative tactics that fool people into divulging sensitive information or performing specific actions.

The origins of social engineering can be traced back as far as we would like to remember since people have always sought to manipulate and deceive others for personal gain. However, the term “social engineering” was first coined in the 1970s by computer security experts.

Attackers use social engineering tactics to exploit human psychology and social dynamics to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information or systems.

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These tactics may take any of the following forms:


Phishing uses email, text messages, or social media to trick individuals into providing sensitive information, such as login credentials, credit card numbers, or personal information.

It’s worth mentioning that spear-phishing is a type of social engineering that uses highly targeted phishing emails to trick specific individuals into giving up sensitive information, installing malware, or transferring money.


Pretexting is when a threat actor creates a false identity or scenario to gain trust and convince a victim to provide sensitive information.

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Through baiting, something of value is offered to the victim, such as a prize or a free service, to entice an individual to divulge sensitive information.

Quid pro quo

This is the practice of offering value, such as technical support, in exchange for sensitive and classified information.


Although it is a physical approach, it can be regarded as a form of social engineering. It refers to following an individual into a restricted area, such as a building or data center, by pretending to be an authorized individual or using a stolen or duplicate ID card.

Social engineering tactics are often used with other types of attacks, such as malware or hacking, to achieve a specific goal, like stealing sensitive information or gaining access to a company’s systems.

How can Social Engineering be Avoided?

There are several ways that organizations can protect themselves from successful social engineering attacks:

Employee education is one of the most effective ways to prevent social engineering attacks. They educate employees about the attackers’ tactics and how to recognize and respond to them.

Organizations can also launch regular awareness campaigns, such as simulated phishing attacks and other tests, to help employees identify and react to social engineering tactics.

Organizations should establish strong security policies and procedures that dictate how employees handle sensitive information and requests for information.

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Organizations can also implement technical controls to prevent social engineering attacks, such as anti-phishing software, web filters, and email filters.

Implementing multi-factor authentication: Organizations should use multi-factor authentication (MFA) to protect sensitive accounts. This adds an extra layer of security, reducing the risk of successful attacks.

Finally, organizations should regularly monitor logs from various systems and devices for any signs of suspicious activity. This allows for early detection of any potential attacks.

Having adequate protection relies on a solid Insider Risk Management platform. Insider risk management aims to prevent or minimize the damage caused by insiders who may intentionally or unintentionally compromise an organization’s security.


It’s imperative to understand that social engineering attacks aim to exploit human nature to access sensitive information or resources and not to exploit weaknesses in various technologies. Therefore, individuals and organizations must educate themselves on these tactics and how to recognize and respond to them.

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