Attackers employ pretexting as a tactic to gain your login credentials, network access or any other sensitive data. Such attacks have led to some of the largest security breaches ever seen such as with Uber and Twilio.

Pretexting involves scam artists creating an enticing narrative to persuade potential victims into giving them valuable information or granting access. They usually pose as authority figures or someone who can provide assistance for the target.

What Are the Different Types of Pretexting Attacks?

Pretexting involves creating an artificial scenario to trick victims into providing sensitive data over the phone or online.

Attackers can use information gleaned through pretexting attacks to steal money, gain access to confidential company files or spread malware. To safeguard against pretexting attacks, train employees independently verify all requests for sensitive data that appear urgent; additionally implement technologies and language AI solutions capable of recognizing suspicious language before it becomes a major problem.

Pretexting and other types of social engineering

Have you received an unsolicited phone call, email or text from someone purporting to be from a service provider who claimed there was an issue with your account? These pretexting scams are known as pretexting.

Cybercriminals use pretexting as an attack method in order to lower defenses and increase their likelihood of success in future attacks. Pretexters often pretend to be trusted figures such as coworkers or company representatives when conducting these attacks, either online via fake email addresses or directly.

Pretexting can also be employed in non-targeted, broad phishing campaigns where attackers do not know much about their targets’ company or organization. For instance, an attacker could send out millions of generic emails and texts with subject lines such as ‘[GLOBAL BANK NAME HERE]: Your Account Is Overdrawn’ hoping some percentage will fall for it.

Even large companies can fall prey to pretexting attacks. Hewlett-Packard experienced this vulnerability first-hand during an internal scandal over board member leaks in 2006 that then expanded into an open fraud investigation, with private investigators impersonating board members in order to get them to hand over AT&T cell phone records.

1. Phishing

Phishing attacks involve threat actors posing as trusted individuals to coax victims into divulging sensitive data. Attackers typically spend considerable time researching their targets to construct convincing pretexts.

Phishing attacks and CEO fraud are two forms of pretexting. Phishing attacks involve attackers posing as CEOs to convince victims that they need money or access to confidential company data immediately – often at great expense to themselves – so as not to appear urgent and legitimate, victims comply.

Pretexting can take the form of impersonating trusted managers or coworkers to gain entry into a building through this method, so employees must always remain vigilant and confirm any requests from unfamiliar individuals before allowing them into the building or sharing any sensitive data via phone, email, etc. A great way to do this is asking for ID before allowing someone in or providing sensitive information over the phone or internet.

2. Tailgating

Social engineering enables an attacker to follow an authorized person into a facility without raising suspicion. When passing by a door, an attacker quickly sticks their foot or another object through it to stop it from closing and locking securely.

Tailgating or piggybacking attacks, sometimes called tailgating or piggybacking, are much harder to detect than technology-based phishing scams; nevertheless, it remains an enormous threat that must be considered and mitigated against as soon as possible.

An effective way to combat tailgating is through regular training on the dangers of phishing and baiting, encouraging employees to always check domain name of website links before clicking them, to only use USB sticks that belong to their own company, and report suspicious behavior. Our Endpoint Detection Response (EDR) solution offers advanced threat protection – learn more now about what our EDR can detect!

3. Baiting

Baiting is an approach that uses curiosity to draw out attention from targets. It may take various forms and be delivered through various platforms including social media, advertisements, emails, external storage devices (like flash drives) or SMS text messages.

Criminals use tempting bait to entice victims into downloading malware. This could take the form of physically loaded USB drives left conspicuously in public spaces or digital forms like tempting ads that lead to malicious sites or offer free downloads of movies which contain malware.

Baiting attacks can be particularly devastating to businesses, since most employees lack the skill or knowledge necessary to distinguish a fake link from an authentic one. Training can help businesses combat these malicious attacks effectively.

Employees can generally protect themselves by being wary when clicking links in emails and refusing to connect unknown devices to their work computers. Furthermore, it’s advisable to request ID from anyone entering or speaking with anyone at work.

4. Piggybacking

“Piggybacking” refers to a network transmission method that optimizes channel bandwidth. Data flows between devices over computer networks in small segments known as “data frames.” Each receiving device receives their frame and sends back an acknowledgment or, if delayed, resents a subsequent data frame through piggybacking; here the acknowledgment can be included with each subsequent frame rather than having to be sent separately.

An individual could gain access to another user’s Wi-Fi network in a cafe by “wardriving” or locating it through their device’s list of available networks – this practice is known as piggybacking as it may compromise other people’s information unless proper precautions such as locking and logging out are taken.

Threat actors could use this data to access sensitive passwords, emails or financial account details on a device – leading to identity theft, fraudulent transactions or malware infections.

5. Impersonation

Impersonation-based vishing attacks involve pretending to be someone familiar to your employees in order to trick them into divulging sensitive data. Criminals use urgency in order to make their requests sound legitimate; for example, telling victims that their payment method has failed or the company they work for has experienced issues and needs help verifying accounts.

Threat actors often build relationships with their targets before creating an intricate web of lies to build up trust; this approach is often seen with CEO fraud or Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks.

Pretexting is illegal, yet often difficult to detect without first looking out for suspicious messages or scareware. One effective way of protecting employees against this form of attack is educating them on recognizing suspicious activity – for example by checking employee credentials – thus decreasing financial loss and data breaches.

6. Vishing and Smishing

Vishing and smishing are forms of social engineering that involve sending malicious text or phone messages via urgent language to persuade recipients to share personal data, click links, or install malware onto their devices.

These attacks often impersonate someone the victim knows; for instance, cybercriminals might pose as their boss or coworker and convince them to divulge sensitive company data, which then could be used in further phishing attempts such as Business Email Compromise (BEC) attacks or malware-based threats.

Attackers can impersonate family members in vishing attacks using voice-mimicking software or Artificial Intelligence (AI). Recently, these attacks have become even more convincing due to AI’s capacity for mimicking human voices.

7. Scareware

Scareware is malware designed to trick users into taking actions that allow attackers to gain entry. For instance, this could include showing “infected” pop-ups, asking users to call an unknown number for technical support to fix the problem, or demanding access data so attackers can remotely take control and steal personal data or information from them.

Scareware attacks often use email addresses with misleading sender names in order to appear as though they come from trusted or prominent sources, tempting recipients into clicking content that redirects them to malicious websites known as “evil twins.” These websites can often look very similar to legitimate ones so users don’t notice they have been tricked into downloading malware that will start its attack on their computers unknowingly.

Preventing scareware requires teams to implement preventative security measures, including property security systems that monitor and protect devices and their underlying system. Real-time security protocols should operate around the clock while staff are trained to recognize any changes in customer behavior that might signal these types of threats have been introduced into their environment.

How pretexting works

Pretexting attacks involve criminals impersonating someone of authority at work, such as the CEO or an IT employee, to gain access to sensitive data or personal information. Criminals use this technique in order to access these sensitive assets.

Before approaching their target, scammers do their research. This includes checking social media, purchasing receipts and subscription login info in order to create a credible narrative and persona that matches up with what the target reveals about himself/herself online.

Criminals appreciate specific information that reveals the victim more quickly and precisely; research methods like dumpster diving may take more effort for relatively low-value targets than expected.

Pretexting plays an integral role in non-targeted email, voice (vishing), SMS text phishing attacks as well as scareware (in which attackers attempt to trick victims into downloading malware by flooding them with fake threats and alarms). To combat such attacks, organizations should implement a comprehensive security awareness program featuring real world simulations.

How to Prevent Pretexting?

Attackers employ various techniques to gain information, including dumpster diving (searching a victim’s trash and recycling bins for useful materials) and blagging (posing as customer service rep to gain access voicemails). While phishing may garner the most media coverage when discussing social engineering attacks, pretexting is also an integral component.

Attacks typically take place through phone, email or text communications and often involve pretending to be from within an organization such as CEO, HR representative or IT specialist – as well as law enforcement officials or any other authority figure.

Pretexting is illegal in various forms; one such form involves adopting an identity to gain trust from targets and get them to reveal sensitive information or take actions that attackers can exploit. Therefore, it’s essential that staff are educated on detecting pretexting as soon as possible.

1. Examine the Pretext Carefully

Pretexting is a form of social engineering attack, often using convincing faked news stories to trick victims into giving over personal and sensitive data that hackers could later use to access money, business networks or deploy malware.

Attackers employ various strategies when conducting pretexting attacks, including replicating government or company logos and tone to make their story more convincing. They may also impersonate trusted managers or colleagues in order to increase credibility, while phrases such as “urgent request” may convince victims they need help and bypass security measures like DMARC without further question.

Pretexting doesn’t get the attention that phishing does, yet it’s vital that employees can recognize these scams so they can protect themselves. Include pretexting awareness training as part of your cybersecurity awareness training to train employees to always ask for proof before helping a colleague or providing confidential data.

2. Always Demand to See Identification

Companies can go beyond implementing DMARC and domain spoofing policies to raise employee security awareness through ongoing training sessions. Reminding staff members to always double check domains of links before clicking them can help prevent phishing attacks from taking place.

Criminals use the personal data they acquire to craft convincing narratives that trick victims into disclosing confidential data such as account passwords and credit card numbers. Sometimes they even pose as employees from companies they know or even as IT specialists to lure victims in.

Many Americans were introduced to pretexting in 2006 when internal conflict at Hewlett-Packard erupted into open scandal. HP’s management team hired private investigators in an effort to find out who was leaking information to the press – the PIs then impersonated board members and tricked phone companies into handing over call records for review by HP management team investigators posing as board members – eventually leading to resignation of Hewlett-Packard Chairwoman Patricia Dunn as well as criminal charges against some investigators involved.

3. Educate Your Staff

Pretexting is one of the many social engineering attacks used by cybercriminals against organizations and individuals, so it is vital that your staff remain aware of this risk so they can detect it and react appropriately.

Pretexters can attack through email, phone and in person attacks. By pretending to be employees or trusted partners they gain access to sensitive data or convince victims into divulging personal details that can be used for identity theft.

Cybercriminals may pose as an executive and ask the finance department for funds transfer immediately; mistakenly taking this request as being normal, the employee does so without properly verifying who it belongs to first.

To safeguard against these scams, be sure your staff receives proper security awareness training. Aim for threat intelligence-driven education as this will give employees the knowledge needed to recognize phishing attacks such as vishing or physical social engineering schemes.


Pretexting is a form of social engineering, though there can also be overlap with other impersonation attacks like phishing.

Pretexting involves threat actors creating a false scenario that appears convincing to victims in order to coax them into sharing sensitive data or opening themselves up to attack. This can occur via any medium – SMS, email, phone calls and even face-to-face contact – while attackers often assume different identities such as IT specialists, HR representatives or senior employees in order to pretext.

People generally show respect to authority figures and trust people they perceive to have high levels of expertise; this makes pretexting attacks so successful.

There are ways to guard against pretexting. Security awareness training and education is necessary, but is no replacement for an integrated strategy.

Sam is an experienced information security specialist who works with enterprises to mature and improve their enterprise security programs. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter.