What is Social Engineering Penetration Testing (2023)

Social Engineering Penetration Testing

“The purpose of social engineering penetration testing is to evaluate the extent to which employees comply with the security policies and protocols set by management. Through testing, an organization can gather insights into the potential susceptibility of its employees to unauthorized access attempts, breach of security protocols, or disclosure of sensitive information.”

What is Social Engineering?

Social engineering attacks refer to the manipulation of individuals or groups into taking certain actions or divulging confidential information. It involves exploiting psychological and emotional factors to influence people to reveal sensitive information, perform actions they wouldn’t normally do, or provide access to restricted resources.

What is Penetration testing?

Penetration testing is done to identity vulnerabilities and loop holes and potential cyber security risks which is present in a system of an organization which is done by pen-testers by simulating real-world attacks on a computer system, network, application, or other digital assets.

What is Social Engineering Penetration Testing?

Over 70% of all data breaches are due to social engineering. Deceiving individuals proves simpler than infiltrating a well-secured computer system, hence the unsurprising statistic that roughly 70% to 90% of data breaches stem from phishing and social engineering attacks.

Social engineering penetration testing is a cybersecurity assessment method that involves simulating real-world social engineering attacks to evaluate an organization’s security awareness, vulnerabilities, and readiness to defend against such attacks. The penetration testing is done by penetration testers known as ethical hackers.

The goal of social engineering penetration testing is to identify weaknesses in an organization’s human and technical defenses that could be exploited by malicious actors. These pen tests can show who within a company is susceptible to the attacks Social engineering penetration testing commonly involves a combination of both on-site and off-site testing approaches.

Methods to perform Social Engineering Penetration testing

Now let us look into a few social engineering penetration testing methodology:

  1. Information gathering: Before conducting tests on a target, it’s crucial to acquaint yourself with the target. To achieve this, you must gather as much publicly accessible information about the target as you can. This can be achieved by OSINT, Active and Passive Reconnaissance.
  2. Victim Selection: To carry out an effective test, it’s essential to carefully select your “targets.” You should aim to identify individuals or groups who are susceptible to deception. For example employees who are less aware, recently fired or mistreated employees etc.
  3. Engaging with Victims: This is the point at which you initiate interaction with your targets. After pinpointing your targets, commence strategizing the most suitable attack methods tailored to each individual or group.

Steps to Run Social Engineering Penetration Testing


During this phase, you’ll determine the test’s scope and methodology. Typically, this necessitates a meeting between management and the testing team. It’s essential to limit the number of participants in this meeting to maintain confidentiality and ensure the test’s accuracy. The goal is to minimize awareness of the test.

In the scoping part, the methods and steps of the testing will be mentioned like if you want to tailgate or impersonate employees or delivery personnel, that needs to be in the scope.

Identification of Attack Vectors

This step of the pen test will involve the tester identifying all of the methods that they will use during the test

These approaches should also be associated with specific users and groups. For instance:

  • Impersonation tests will target security guards. This will involve posing as an Amazon delivery person delivering a package to an IT employee.
  • Security guards will undergo tailgating tests. Testers will closely observe employees as they enter a building or secure area during periods of high foot traffic.
  • Phishing tests will be conducted on accounting personnel. This will entail sending a phishing email to an accountant, mimicking the Chief Executive Officer’s identity, and requesting the previous month’s expense report for review.
  • An IT employee will be subjected to an impersonation test. This will involve a pen tester requesting a password reset for an account receivable department employee.

Each test can be scored based on how well the users respond and will help with the overall final score of the penetration test.

Penetration Attempts

In this phase of the penetration test, the tester will proceed to implement all the attack vectors listed in the previous step. Thorough documentation is crucial at this stage, as these tests will serve as essential corroborative material for the subsequent report.

During the test, the evidences collected should be –

  • Captured Phone Conversations: These recorded phone calls carry significance since no alternative method exists for documenting the occurrence of this attack and demonstrating its outcomes.
  • Phishing Attack Emails: These emails hold significance because they reveal the extent to which a user allowed the attack to progress before detecting it. In certain instances, users might only realize the deception after they’ve already disclosed sensitive information. Documentation retrieved through dumpster diving. This documentation should encompass scanned copies of the located documents, and where suitable, photographs of the discovery site. In addition to the supporting evidence, the tester should incorporate the initiation and conclusion timestamps for each test, the tester’s name, and the name(s) of the employee(s) subjected to the test.

Report Compilation

The reporting phase of a penetration test involves consolidating all the findings. When composing the report, it’s essential to keep the intended audience in mind.

Ensure that you cover all the initial concerns discussed at the start of the test, along with the vulnerabilities uncovered during the testing phase.

In the report, it’s important not only to highlight the identified vulnerabilities but also to offer recommendations for mitigating these vulnerabilities.

A standard penetration testing report includes:

  • An executive summary
  • A detailed explanation of discovered technical risks
  • The possible consequences of identified vulnerabilities
  • Available remediation strategies for each vulnerability
  • Concluding insights from the penetration test
  • Vulnerability Mitigation

Based on the results of the subsequent test, the penetration testing is either concluded or reevaluated until the organization opts to either acknowledge the identified risks or the test achieves or surpasses a predetermined threshold.


Should social engineering be used in penetration testing?

Yes, social engineering can be a valuable component of penetration testing. Including social engineering techniques in penetration testing helps organizations evaluate their employees’ awareness of security risks and their ability to recognize and respond to potential threats. Social engineering tests can assess vulnerabilities in human behavior, such as susceptibility to phishing attacks, willingness to share sensitive information or adherence to security protocols.

What are the benefits of social engineering penetration testing?

1) Identifying vulnerabilities
2) Measuring security awareness
3) Raising Employee Awareness
4) Mitigating risks
5) Improving incident response
6) Building stakeholder confidence

What is an example of a social engineering technique?

One example of a social engineering technique is “Phishing.” For instance, an attacker might send an email that appears to be from a well-known bank, claiming that the recipient’s account has been compromised. The email might instruct the recipient to click on a link to log in and verify their account details to secure it. The link, however, leads to a fraudulent website designed to collect the user’s login credentials.

Lichumon is an enthusiastic SOC Analyst with a keen interest in exploring the complexities of the dark web and human risk factors in cybersecurity. Despite being early in his career, his eagerness to learn and adapt sets him apart. Balancing vigilance and curiosity, Lichumon navigates the ever-evolving cyber threat landscape with a sense of determination and commitment to continuous learning.