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Understanding Social Engineering

GRAPHIC: Social Engineering Examples with Icons

Social engineering is the term for exploiting human psychology, rather than traditional hacking techniques, to gain access to buildings, systems, devices, or data. For example, a social engineer might call a UF phone number and pose as an IT support person, trying to trick the employee into divulging passwords. David Maurer in The Big Con writes of 1940s confidence [con] men and how they gained the trust of victims. It’s the same in the 2020s: social engineers want to seem believable whether by email, phone call, text, or in person–they gain the victim’s trust to get what they want. Two types of social engineering techniques are employment scams and tailgaiting:

1. Employment scams are plentiful, and many, if not most, students have received an email advertising a 10 hour per week campus job earning $350 per week. Think twice before clicking on the links in an email advertising a job you didn’t inquire about.
2. Tailgating is when someone enlists your help to gain unauthorized building access. An example is when a person with an armful of packages asks you to open the door with your UFID card since they can’t reach theirs. You naturally want to be helpful, but someone now has access they shouldn’t.

UFIT is launching an updated social engineering webpage this spring. In the meantime, if you suspect an email you receive in your GatorMail may be phishing, report it to And remember, Gators…be aware of who you are letting access UF residence halls, academic buildings, and other secure campus spaces.