What is pretexting vs phishing?

Answered by John Hunt

Pretexting and phishing are both techniques used by cybercriminals to deceive and manipulate individuals into divulging sensitive information or performing certain actions. While phishing relies on fear and urgency, pretexting takes a different approach by building a false sense of trust. In pretexting, the attacker creates a convincing story or scenario that leaves little room for doubt in the mind of their target.

To be successful in pretexting, the attacker must first develop a credible story that appeals to the victim’s emotions or desires. This could involve posing as a trusted individual or authority figure, such as a co-worker, customer service representative, or even a law enforcement officer. The pretexter will carefully craft their story, providing enough detail to make it believable and appealing to the victim.

Choosing a suitable disguise is also crucial in pretexting. The attacker may adopt a different persona, using different names, job titles, or roles to convince the victim of their legitimacy. They may also create fake websites, email addresses, or social media profiles to further support their deception. By appearing trustworthy and credible, the pretexter gains the victim’s confidence and lowers their guard.

Once a sense of trust is established, the pretexter will then proceed to exploit the victim’s vulnerability. This could involve requesting sensitive information, such as account credentials, Social Security numbers, or financial details. Alternatively, the attacker may manipulate the victim into performing certain actions, such as clicking on malicious links, downloading malware, or making unauthorized transactions.

Pretexting can be particularly effective because it taps into human psychology and our natural inclination to trust others. By playing on emotions, desires, and the perceived authority of the pretexter, individuals may be more inclined to comply with their requests without questioning their authenticity.

Personal experiences and situations can help illustrate the effectiveness of pretexting. For example, imagine receiving a phone call from someone claiming to be from your bank’s fraud department. They explain that there has been suspicious activity on your account and ask you to verify your personal information to resolve the issue. The caller may have your name, address, and even some details about your recent transactions, making their story appear genuine. In this scenario, the pretexter is relying on your trust in the bank and your concern for your financial security to convince you to disclose sensitive information.

Pretexting is a deceptive technique that relies on building a false sense of trust with the victim. It involves creating a credible story and adopting a suitable disguise to convince the target of the attacker’s legitimacy. By exploiting emotions and trust, pretexting aims to manipulate individuals into divulging sensitive information or performing certain actions. It is important to remain vigilant and skeptical when interacting with unfamiliar individuals or providing personal information to ensure protection against pretexting attacks.