Mobile App Security Knowledge Base: Social Engineering Attack

Nowadays, mobile devices have become more popular than laptops and desktops. It’s not only the reason that these are easy to carry, but the technological advancements have enabled them to execute the same functions as laptops and desktop computers can do. You can engage in almost all activities on your smartphones, right from checking emails to watching the news, instant messaging, doing bank transactions, buying items online, and playing games.

Mobile devices and applications have a lot of benefits, but if data in these devices go into the wrong hands, it can cause potential damage. There is a need for mobile application security to keep applications protected from external threats like social engineering attacks. These are becoming more common due to digital advancements. Cybercriminals find sophisticated ways to attack and use ever-more clever methods to fool individuals into providing valuable data to them.

However, social engineering attacks involve human intervention, preventing them can be a bit tricky. Organizations need to educate employees and end-users on how to recognize social engineering attacks and prevent them from succeeding. In this article, we are going to discuss some of the most common attacks being used to manipulate users and some tips to avoid them. Let’s first discuss a little about mobile application security and understand the social engineering attacks.

What is mobile application security?

Mobile application security is a practice to safeguard high-value Android and iOS mobile applications and the digital identity of users from fraudulent or social engineering attacks. It generally involves reverse engineering, social engineering, malware, tampering, and other kinds of interference or manipulation. Any vulnerability in a mobile application or device can give attackers access to your personal life in real-time and disclose your data, including personal information, banking information, location, and much more.

Users generally trust and depend on organizations to test their mobile app security. But they should be cautious of the data they download from the Internet and information they disclose. Mobile devices store an astonishing amount of personal or critical information and sensitive data or documents. It can make them a treasure-trove for cybercriminals. The most common threat to mobile devices and applications is social engineering attacks. Let’s see what social engineering is.

What is social engineering?

Social engineering refers to a wide range of malicious activities attained through human interactions. It leverages psychological manipulation to trick people into committing security mistakes and providing sensitive information. The kind of information cyber criminals are seeking can vary. But when they target an individual by tricking them into providing them their bank information or password or access their mobile to install malicious software. It will give them access to your device and control over your mobile phone.

Security is all about knowing who, what, and when to trust. The weakest link in the security chain is the human itself, who accepts a scenario or a person at face value. No matter how many security practices you have in place, if you let someone in without checking if it’s legitimate or not, you are exposing yourself to potential risks.

Stages of a social engineering attack

Social engineering attacks occur in three stages described as follows.

  • Research

The hacker researches the victim to gather information, such as organizational structure, toles, behaviors, and things the targets may respond to. They can collect data from social media profiles and websites.

  • Planning

After using the collected information, hackers select their mode of attack and make strategies they will use to exploit the target’s device vulnerabilities.

  • Execution

Cyber Criminals carry out attacks generally by sending messages and emails. Through social engineering, they interact with their targets and trick them.

Top social engineering techniques

Here are the five most common techniques used for social engineering attacks.

 1. Phishing

It’s one of the most common social engineering techniques. In phishing attacks, hackers use a text message, an email, instant messaging clients, social media to get sensitive information from the target or trick them into clicking a malicious link or opening a malicious document. A phishing message gets the target’s attention and calls to action by inducing curiosity, pulling emotional triggers, or asking for help.

They generally use images or text styles and logos to spoof an organization’s identity, making them seem legitimate. Most phishing emails or messages use a sense of urgency, causing people to believe that there can be negative consequences if they do not provide their information quickly.



2. Spear phishing

It’s a more targeted version of a phishing scam where a cybercriminal chooses certain enterprises or individuals. Then they customize their messages depending on job positions, characteristics, and contacts belonging to their targets making their attack less suspicious. Spear phishing requires more effort on behalf of criminals and can take months or weeks to pull off. They are more sophisticated and much harder to detect and have better success rates if proceeded skillfully.




In this social engineering technique, a hacker gets information through a series of intelligently crafted lies. The scam is generally initiated by a criminal pretending to need critical information from the target to perform a suspicious task. The hacker begins by establishing trust with their target by impersonating co-workers, bank and tax officials, police, or other persons having right-to-know authority.

A pretexter asks questions that are required to confirm the target’s identity through which they collect their personal data. All kinds of sensitive information and records are collected through this scam, including personal addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, bank records, phone records, and security information.

4. Baiting

Baiting attacks use a fake promise to arouse a victim’s curiosity and greed. They trap users to steal their personal information or expose their devices with malware. The most common form of baiting leverages physical media to spread malware. For instance, hackers leave the bait, generally malware, in areas where potential victims are certain to see them, such as elevators, bathrooms, and parking lots.

The bait has an authentic look, such as a label presenting it as an organization’s payroll list. Targets pick up the bait in curiosity and put it into their devices. It results in automatic malware installation. These scams do not need to be carried out in the physical world. Digital bating forms consist of enticing ads leading to malicious sites that encourage users to download malicious applications.


5. Scareware

It involves the target being bombarded with fake alarms and false threats. Victims are deceived that their device is infected with malware that prompts them to install software with no real benefits. Scareware is referred to as deception software, fraudware, or rogue scanner software.

A common example of scareware is the popup banners that look legitimate while surfing the web. These pop ups display texts saying, “Your device may be infected with malicious programs.” It either directs you to a malicious site or installs an infected tool that can cause damage to your device. Scareware can be distributed through spam emails making offers to buy harmful services appearing legitimate.



Ways to protect yourself from social engineering attacks

Here are some tips that you can use to protect yourself from social engineering attacks. Don’t assume that you are protected It is important to assume that every threat actor out there is actively working on trying to compromise your network. Don’t rest easy and think “we’re too small of a target”, “we’re not a big enough organization to be targeted” or “no one would ever want to hack our organization”. The fact is that we live in a very connected world.

  • Reject request for help

Legitimate organization do not contact you to provide help. If you did not request help from the sender, consider it a scam. Similarly, if you get a request for help from an organization or a charity that you are not linked with, delete it.

  • Secure your device

Install firewalls, email filters, anti-virus software and keep them up to date. Update your operating system whenever you get a notification to do so. Install an anti-phishing tool provided by authorized companies or third parties to alert you to risks.

  • Set high spam filters

Every email program has spam filters. Go to your settings to find yours and set them high. Make sure to check your spam folder more often to see if a legitimate email has been trapped here accidentally.

  • Use multi-factor authentication

One of the most useful pieces of information cyber criminals seek are user credentials. Leveraging multi-factor authentication ensures your device’s or account’s protection if a suspicious activity happens.

  • Beware of tempting offers

If an offer seems too enticing, think twice before accepting it. Making a research about it can help you determine if you’re dealing with a legitimate offer or a trap.

  • Educate your employees

Organize lectures and webinars to educate employees and end users about mobile application security. Moreover, make policies that strictly instruct employees to keep security measures in mind.


Social engineering attacks manipulate human feelings, such as fear or curiosity, to draw targets into traps. Therefore, employees and users should beware of phishing emails, clicking on malicious links, downloading harmful documents, and visiting fake authentication pages. In this article, we have discussed the most common techniques used for social engineering attacks and ways to protect them. Spammers want you to act first and then think. If a message, a phone call, or an email conveys a sense of urgency, slow down and never let their urgency put your security at risk. However, we are familiar that cybercriminals rely on human emotion and nature to subtly trick people into acting. It is important to recognize the power of the ego to stay protected against social engineering attacks and keep your mobile devices secure.