How to Prevent Social Engineering Attacks | Training Your Team

November 20, 2023

Regarding cybersecurity, your workforce can be both your greatest asset and your most significant vulnerability. As security measures evolve, cybercriminals frequently choose to exploit the human element as the weakest link in the chain. Social engineering attacks thrive on a lack of employee training, making everyone from receptionists to management potential targets. 

There is a critical need for robust social engineering training to empower your staff to recognise and thwart these threats, ultimately safeguarding your business from the devastating consequences of data breaches and operational disruptions. 

What is social engineering? 

Social engineering involves exploiting human psychology to gain unauthorised access to buildings, systems, or data. It uses personalised attempts to manipulate individuals into performing unsafe actions, often leveraging emotions or negligence. A staggering 88% of data breaches result from human error. Social engineers convincingly pose as trusted entities, using confidence and urgency to pressure employees into divulging sensitive information or granting access. This psychological manipulation technique targets those with special access and employs various tactics such as phishing, baiting, and pretexting through channels like email, phone, or in-person interactions. 

Three prevalent social engineering techniques include classic social engineering, where impostors demand information in person or over the phone; email social engineering, involving phishing emails with malicious content; and opportunity engineering, exploiting employee actions through methods like leaving infected USBs or sneaking into premises. Social engineering ultimately capitalises on human desires and motivations to create policy oversights and breach security.

The ramifications of successful social engineering attacks

​​Successful social engineering attacks can have profound and multifaceted impacts on businesses. Primarily driven by financial motives, these attacks can lead to substantial monetary losses for organisations, encompassing expenses for incident response teams, security software, and customer data resolution. Beyond financial repercussions, businesses face significant disruptions to productivity, as cyber incidents demand the attention of IT and management teams, diverting resources from regular operations and reducing overall efficiency. The operational disruption extends throughout the supply chain, potentially causing logistical delays. 

The damage isn't confined to the immediate aftermath; it can have a lasting impact on a company's reputation. When customer trust is eroded due to a security breach, businesses may suffer a loss of clients and suppliers, and rebuilding trust can be a lengthy and challenging process. 

The value of social engineering training for businesses today

Social engineering training is a crucial component of cybersecurity preparedness. It involves educating individuals to develop a deep understanding of the various tactics employed by cybercriminals to manipulate and deceive. The primary aim is to empower individuals to not only identify but also prevent potential cyber threats effectively.

Through social engineering training, individuals acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to become vigilant and responsible employees. They learn to recognise the subtle signs of manipulation, deception, and fraudulent attempts. This training equips them with the tools to distinguish between genuine interactions and potential threats in their personal lives and within the organisational context.

Ultimately, the goal of social engineering training is twofold: first, to create a workforce that is more resilient to cyberattacks, thereby safeguarding your business’s digital assets, and second, to promote a cyber-aware culture that extends beyond the workplace, benefiting individuals in their personal online interactions. By instilling these essential skills, social engineering training helps reduce human cyber risk and contributes to a safer digital environment.

All employees need ongoing training to recognise and defend against the latest social engineering tactics used by cybercriminals. Continuous awareness, education, and training will foster a security culture, making cybersecurity second nature for employees.

Setting up social engineering training 

To get your team on board with the dangers and reality of cyber attacks and their impact, there are a few key methods to involve in your training approach. 

Interactive training 

Teaching your employees (on all levels) about the ins and outs of social engineering will be far more meaningful if it is done in an engaging and dynamic manner than simply sending out a document to read in their own time. You may enlist the help of a professional, like our team at ITRS, to help you with the contents and design of the program, centering it around hands-on and practical training tactics. 

Short, current, and entertaining awareness videos are an invaluable tool to use. They can be shared regularly, revising concepts already covered and introducing new ones as social engineering attacks become more sophisticated. 

In a similar vein, awareness graphics are a great visual aid that can easily be shared and even be hung up around the office to keep cyber security at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

Phishing simulations demonstrate to employees how easy it is to fall for an attack. These emails are designed to mimic recent and relevant phishing attacks. Using them in your training will provide a real picture of the cunning tactics bad actors employ and will challenge the notion many individuals have that they can’t be tricked. Be sure not to put anyone on the spot when performing phishing simulations, rather reveal the statistics of how well your team performed when a fake attack was launched and explore how employees could have better protected themselves. 

Designing a corporate policy that is easy to understand

Well-defined policies around cybersecurity are essential to prevent employees from falling victim to social engineering attacks. Your policies should be straightforward and must apply to employees at all levels within your business. 

Craft your policy with clarity and simplicity, avoiding overly legal language. Include elements that help employees identify, assess, avoid, and document social engineering attempts. Develop clear procedures for handling sensitive information, requests, and incidents and ensure that all employees understand how to follow these procedures effectively. 

Introduce your policies during new employee onboarding and educate your existing team about them to promote a unified awareness of cybersecurity in your business. 

Buy-in from leadership across all tiers of your business is crucial for encouraging the rest of your staff to adhere to your policies and procedures. Top-down commitment highlights the importance of preventing social engineering attacks and makes it clear that it is a team effort. As part of this commitment, have leaders present at training sessions. 

Use policy frameworks like the South African National Cybersecurity Policy Framework (NCPF), the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Framework as guidelines to develop your corporate policy.

Bringing cybersecurity into general conversations 

Fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness within the workplace requires making cybersecurity a part of everyday conversation. One effective strategy is to implement a continuous training approach that seamlessly integrates social engineering awareness into various communication channels. This includes incorporating cybersecurity updates and insights into the employee newsletter, sending regular emails that delve into real-life scenarios, and posting helpful tips on information boards throughout the office. Make new hires aware of your campaign against social engineering as soon as they join your business, ensuring they are well-informed from day one. 

Your educational campaigns should also serve as regular reminders that social engineering threats are not confined to the workplace's physical boundaries. Cybercriminals can strike anywhere, from public transit to the grocery store, and even exploit oversharing on social media platforms. In the midst of their daily routines, it's easy for employees to forget the critical security information they have learned during training. 

Encouraging healthy suspicion 

The key to enabling employees to effectively address social engineering incidents lies in helping them feel confident in questioning unfamiliar individuals. Instead of hastily making decisions, employees should adopt a mindset of critical thinking when faced with various situations. For instance, they might consider whether it is within your company’s protocol to grant access to individuals in uniforms, such as security personnel or outsourced cleaning staff. Inquiring about the purpose of someone's presence in sensitive areas like the server room and requesting identification for verification are essential steps. 

Employees should feel comfortable politely declining requests for personal information sharing, suggesting that they consult with their manager for proper authorisation. Encouraging these practices empowers employees to proactively safeguard against potential social engineering threats while maintaining a respectful and vigilant workplace environment.

Testing your team

To bolster the resilience of your employees against social engineering attacks, consider gathering a dedicated assessment team. This team should be authorised to conduct tests simulating scenarios akin to those employed by malicious social engineers. The tests may include posing as cleaning staff attempting to gain access to secured areas without proper badges, impersonating IT personnel needing network access, or deploying specialised software to execute fake phishing email campaigns and monitor the outcomes. They can also explore unlocked doors, engage in the recovery of sensitive documents that have been thrown away, strategically place USBs, and alter desktop settings on unlocked computers.

Use the outcomes of these assessments as educational opportunities rather than putting anyone in the spotlight. Offer constructive feedback to help individuals comprehend their missteps and equip them with the knowledge to steer clear of similar tricks in the future. You will cultivate a culture of good judgement and healthy scepticism.

This approach not only educates employees effectively but also helps identify trends and pinpoint areas where additional security awareness and skill enhancement are required. 

Tips to implement your social engineering training successfully

  1. Communicate everything from what social engineering is to your company’s policies in a clear, memorable way. Use relatable stories rather than scare tactics and strategically place awareness posters in high-traffic areas, whether physically or digitally for remote employees. 

  1. Incentivise your employees by turning training activities into games. Foster healthy competition between departments or teams with recognition for top performers. Incorporate cybersecurity metrics into performance reviews and bonuses, promoting a positive approach to training.

  1. Make training applicable. Clearly explain to employees that they are potential targets and emphasise the benefits of cybersecurity awareness training both in and outside of work. Highlight that cybersecurity skills are applicable to daily life and that protecting the company's data also safeguards job security.

How often should you run social engineering awareness training? 

While Information Security standards recommend training refreshers at least once a year, we suggest doing them quarterly, along with phishing tests and reporting. Ultimately, the frequency of your training will influence the cybersecurity culture in your business. If it is not high on your priority list to continually revisit and make good cyber hygiene part of day-to-day operations, it won’t be for your employees either. 

Hire a professional to train your team 

ITRS offers courses covering all aspects of Information Security, including specialised training for Developers using the OWASP Top Ten set of principles. Social engineering is one element of our training program, where we cover the following: 

  • What social engineering is and how it affects everything we do.
  • How to identify email-, text message-, and social media-based social engineering attacks.
  • Where to scan suspicious emails, attachments, and URLs to see if they have been reported. 
  • Where to report social engineering attacks to protect yourself and others in the workplace. 
  • Registering on “” which alerts you when there are any breaches of your email domain or an email address in your company. 

Contact us to learn about how we can aid you in your social engineering training!

Final thoughts 

Social engineering awareness training stands as an indispensable shield in the growing landscape of cybersecurity threats. As businesses increasingly rely on technology, our interconnected world becomes more vulnerable to the cunning tactics of cybercriminals. By investing in comprehensive and engaging training programs, you can empower your greatest assets - your employees - to become vigilant defenders of sensitive data. The journey toward cyber resilience begins with awareness, followed by clearly defined policies, continuous education, and a supportive culture that encourages questioning, learning, and reporting. With each click, email, or interaction, employees play a pivotal role in thwarting social engineering attacks. Through a shared commitment to security, we can collectively navigate the complex web of digital threats and safeguard the future of our organisations. Social engineering awareness training is not just a task; it's a mindset, a shield, and a promise to protect the digital foundations on which our modern world relies.

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