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How to Train Employees to Spot Social Engineering Attacks

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How to Train Employees to Spot Social Engineering Attacks

In today's digital landscape, social engineering attacks pose a significant threat to businesses of all sizes, including yours.

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Social engineering, the art of manipulating people into divulging confidential information, can have devastating consequences for companies. For UK SMEs, safeguarding against these attacks is essential to maintaining client trust, safeguarding sensitive data, and ensuring business continuity.

Here’s how you can protect your employees and, by extension, your business from social engineering attacks.

How Social Engineering Tricks Your Employees (and Steals Your Data)

Social engineering is the tactic behind some of the most famous hacker attacks. It’s a method based on research and persuasion that is usually at the root of spam, phishing, and spear phishing scams, which are spread by email.

The purpose of social engineering attacks is to gain the victim’s trust to steal data and money. Social engineering incidents often also involve the use of malware, such as ransomware and trojans.

Social Engineering

Real-World Examples: How Companies Lost Millions to Social Engineering

Here are some notable examples to illustrate the impact of these attacks:

  1. Shark Tank, 2020: Barbara Corcoran was tricked into a nearly $400,000 phishing scam. A cybercriminal impersonated her assistant, requesting a payment that seemed legitimate.
  2. Toyota, 2019: A Business Email Compromise (BEC) attack led to a $37M loss. The attackers convinced a finance executive to change bank account information for a wire transfer.
  3. Sony Pictures, 2014: Spear phishing attacks led to a massive data breach, stealing sensitive business documents and employee information attributed to the North Korean government.

For more examples, visit Gatefy's blog on real and famous cases of social engineering attacks.

Actionable Steps: Training Your Employees

The first line of defence against social engineering scams is an informed and vigilant workforce. Here are what specific actions you should take:

  • Recognise Common Tactics: Ensure your employees are familiar with various types of social engineering attacks, such as phishing, vishing (voice phishing), and smishing (SMS phishing).
  • Identify Red Flags: Educate your team to identify suspicious emails, links, and requests. Unexpected attachments, urgent requests for information, and unfamiliar email addresses should raise alarms.
  • Verify Requests: Encourage a culture of verification. Your employees should always verify the legitimacy of requests for sensitive information, especially if they are unsolicited or seem unusual.


Implement Strong Policies and Procedures

Developing and enforcing robust security policies is essential in mitigating social engineering risks. Some of your key policies should include:

  • Email Security: Implement filters to block phishing emails and use email authentication protocols like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC to prevent social engineering attacks on your business.
  • Password Management: Encourage the use of strong, unique passwords and implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) to add an extra layer of security. Best practices for password management should be followed to ensure all accounts are secure.
  • Access Controls: Limit access to sensitive information based on role and necessity. This minimises the potential impact of a compromised account.

Cybersecurity Strategies (1)

Utilise Technology Solutions

Leverage technology to support your security efforts. Some effective solutions include:

  • Anti-Phishing Software: Invest in anti-phishing tools that can detect and block phishing attempts. Endpoint protection software for businesses can also help safeguard against malware and other threats.
  • Security Awareness Programs: Use simulated phishing attacks to test and improve employee awareness. Cybersecurity awareness for employees in the UK is crucial for preventing social engineering attacks.
  • Endpoint Protection: Ensure all devices used by employees have up-to-date security software to prevent malware and other malicious activities.

Foster a Security-Conscious Culture


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Creating a security-conscious culture is essential for long-term protection against social engineering. This involves:

  • Leadership Commitment: Leaders should prioritise cybersecurity and lead by example. You should regularly communicate the importance of security and demonstrate adherence to best practices.
  • Open Communication: Encourage employees to report suspicious activities without fear of reprimand. An open line of communication can help in early detection and response to potential threats.
  • Continuous Learning: Cybersecurity is an ever-evolving field. Regularly update training programs to reflect the latest threats and best practices. Staff training on cyber security should be an ongoing process.

Plan and Test Your Response

Despite best efforts, breaches can still occur. Having a well-defined response plan is critical:

  • Incident Response Plan: Develop and maintain an incident response plan for social engineering attacks that outlines the steps to be taken in the event of a breach.
  • Regular Testing: Conduct regular tests to ensure that all employees are familiar with the response procedures and can act swiftly in the event of an attack.
  • Post-Incident Review: After an incident, conduct a thorough review to identify what went wrong and implement measures to prevent future occurrences.

External Resources

For more information on social engineering and cybersecurity best practices, here are some great resources:


Protecting your employees from social engineering attacks requires a multi-faceted approach involving education, policies, technology, and a security-conscious culture. By staying vigilant and proactive, UK SMEs can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to these deceptive tactics and safeguard their valuable assets and reputations.

By implementing these strategies, businesses can empower their employees to act as the first line of defence against social engineering attacks, ensuring a secure and resilient organisational environment.

Stay informed, stay secure.

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