The Threat of Social Hacking

Published 30 Nov, 2021

The term hacking can be misinterpreted quite easily. In the end it’s almost always a way to circumvent a restriction (usually technical) through the application of obscure knowledge or by the exploitation of unexpected behaviours of a system. Combined with social engineering and manipulating the human part of a system, the possibilities are almost endless.

WhatsApp Fraud, a Common Example of Social Hacking

In Western Europe the most written about example of social hacking of consumers at the moment is WhatsApp fraud. These attacks started off quite basic, with WhatsApp messages coming from an unknown number claiming to be someone’s daughter or son. After just a couple of messages this person would ask for money under the guise of needing to purchase a new laptop to replace a broken one. Nowadays, the attackers have become more intelligent, calling the real children first, recording their voices and playing them back to the actual parents to trick them into doing what the attacker wants. The databases with leads containing these telephone numbers, addresses and social security numbers can be easily found on the dark web. Data can be filtered according to age category and available family relations.

Act Quickly, Avoid Corporate Ransom 

The biggest risk for companies today is a ransomware attack. This is often accomplished by some form of social hack, for example a fishing email, which breaks through the first layer of security. Estimates show that over 90% of companies pay the attackers to decrypt their data. With average ransom payments now over $150,000, this has rapidly grown into a big and lucrative kind of business. It is imperative to respond swiftly in getting the appropriate help as soon as such an attack is discovered.

Preventing Social Hacking

Besides the obvious advice not to store data you don’t need, to compartmentalise access to data in the first place and to develop business processes with a separation of duties, lots of these attacks can be prevented when the end user has knowledge about these kind of attacks. The answer for companies is to keep educating users about these events and to share lessons learned after a system has been compromised. Social hacking is a phenomenon of all ages, with the example of the Spanish Prisoner con from the 19th century. The trick itself didn’t change much but it is obviously here to stay and the techniques used are quickly evolving.


meet the author

Tristan’s love for networks, computer security and privacy started back in 1990 with a Commodore 64. Later on in that decade he was already building personal websites, tinkering with different Linux distributions and probing online systems as a grey-hat hacker. While studying at Delft University of Technology in 2003, he started Prism Open Source. Tristan spotted the potential for Open Source cloud software as an alternative to commercially licensed software early on. When not at the office he tries to be as far away from the keyboard as possible as an instructor for a sailing school or by participating in local and international sailing races.

Profile image generated from: 

This Person Does Not Exist 1
Share This