Guardians of the Digital Realm: How to Protect Yourself from Social Engineering

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Social engineering has been around for as long as coveted information has existed. In the digital realm, threat actors use this psychological manipulation tactic to drive people to break normal security procedures. It is a con game that relies on human error rather than digital hacking.  

These are some common forms of social engineering in digital communications: 

  • Impersonation. In these attacks, bad actors pose as trusted entities. 
  • Pretexting. Bad actors use fake stories to bait their targets into revealing sensitive information. 
  • Baiting. Attackers use promises of rewards or benefits to lure in their targets. 

In social engineering attacks, bad actors exploit psychological principles like trust, the fear of missing out, authority and the desire to be helpful. When you and your users learn to recognize these triggers, you can build a strong defense. In this blog post, we’ll cover three more steps you can take to protect yourself and your business. 

1. Build a human firewall 

If you want your employees to be able to recognize social engineering attacks, you need to educate them. To create your human firewall, training should cover various types of social engineering tactics. Some top examples include:

  • Phishing 
  • Telephone-oriented attack delivery (TOAD
  • Pretexting 
  • Baiting 
  • Quid pro quo 
  • Tailgating 

It’s a good idea to keep your employees informed of the latest attack trends. That is why continuous education has more of an impact than one-off training sessions. Regular updates can help you keep your workforce up to speed. 

You may want to support your training efforts with a comprehensive security awareness platform. It can provide content that’s designed to increase user participation and help lessons stick, like gamification and microlearning. Quizzes, interactive modules and mock phishing scenarios can all help your users learn how to become better defenders, too. 

Actionable tips: 

  • Test your team with simulated phishing emails at least once a month 
  • Conduct security awareness training sessions at least once per quarter 
  • Build a yearlong campaign that also provides employees with other training information, like digital newsletters or packets that they can take home 

2. Slow down and ask questions 

You might assume your security team has put technology in place to defend against social engineering. However, there is no silver bullet to stop these attacks. That’s why you need to approach digital communications with a critical eye, especially when they include requests for sensitive information or prompts to take urgent actions.  

You want to complete your work quickly and be responsive to your leadership team, of course. But threat actors count on these types of triggers. Instead, do your best to: 

Slow down 

This is a crucial move in the fight against social engineering. It enables you to evaluate the situation with a critical eye and recognize potential red flags. When you slow down, you transform automatic, reflexive responses into thoughtful, deliberate actions.  

Practice skepticism 

When you stop to question whether an interaction is legitimate, you can spot inconsistencies. You can ask questions like: “Is this request from a person or entity I can trust?”, “Can I verify their identity?” and “Is this request truly urgent?” You might consult with colleagues or managers or refer to company policies. Or you might even do a quick internet search to validate claims. 

Actionable tips: 

  • Examine emails for unusual language or requests 
  • Double-check that email addresses and domain names are authentic 
  • Verify requests that come through alternative communication channels 

3. Use a multilayered defense 

If you want to have an edge in combatting social engineering, you need to adopt a multilayered security approach. In other words, you need to combine the human element of user vigilance with advanced tools.   

A core part of this strategy is to deploy an advanced email security solution that can stop an initial attack. Ideally, it should use a combination of behavioral analytics, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). Together, they work to analyze patterns in communication and identify anomalies that may signal a social engineering attempt. Even better: They can learn from ongoing threats to improve detection over time.  

  • Behavioral analytics can track typical user actions and flag deviations that might indicate a compromised account or malicious intent. 
  • ML algorithms can process vast amounts of data to recognize and predict attackers’ tactics. 
  • AI can adapt quickly to new strategies, providing a dynamic defense that evolves with the threat landscape. 

Sender authentication technology is also critical to your defense. It will stop identity-based attacks where threat actors send messages using domain spoofing or lookalike domains. In these attacks, threat actors pose as trusted partners and people working in your company. This is a common technique that’s used in attacks like business email compromise (BEC) and supplier invoice fraud. You can stop these imposters’ messages from getting through by using Proofpoint Email Fraud Defense and setting DMARC to reject status. Doing so requires the system to validate a sender’s identity, which means that any impersonated emails will be automatically rejected.  

When you combine sophisticated email security tools with ongoing employee training and a culture of security awareness, your business can significantly reduce its exposure to social engineering attacks. 

Actionable tips: 

  • Use advanced email security tools to block suspicious messages before they are delivered 
  • Set DMARC to reject status to ensure that no one can impersonate your domains 
  • Use automatic remediation solutions like Proofpoint CLEAR to remove latent attacks immediately 


Protecting against social engineering is an ongoing challenge. It demands a combination of awareness, skepticism and technological support. But you can create a formidable defense against these deceptive tactics when you: 

  • Understand the psychological aspects of these attacks 
  • Educate yourself and your team 
  • Employ robust security measures 
  • Practice caution on social media 
  • Use advanced technologies 

If you want to learn more about how to stop social engineering-based attacks, contact us