Social engineering tactics, such as phishing, have become the go-to starting point for threat actors, especially against healthcare organizations. The success cybercriminals have with these attack methods means that it’s unlikely they’ll slow down any time soon.

This is why it’s vital to arm your team and healthcare organization with knowledge about what social engineering is, the multifaceted tactics used, and how to identify them.

What is social engineering?

Social engineering is a form of manipulation that exploits human nature and social interactions to gain access to information, systems, or networks. It relies on tricking individuals into breaking standard security procedures or divulging confidential information. Essentially, it’s a con game that cybercriminals use to achieve their goals.

How social engineering works

Threat actors follow a fairly consistent process when using social engineering techniques to deceive individuals:

Information gathering

The attacker researches their target to find potential points of vulnerability. This might include learning about an individual’s interests, habits, or the organizational structure of a company. This information often comes from data an individual has already provided to another third party like an airline or hotel or is found in open sources like online address repositories.

Building trust

The attacker then uses this information to establish rapport and trust. This could be through impersonation, posing as someone the target knows, or creating a scenario that seems legitimate and harmless.


Once trust is established, the attacker exploits it to manipulate the target into divulging confidential information, such as passwords, bank information, or access to sensitive systems.


The attacker uses the acquired information to conduct fraudulent activities, access restricted areas, or launch further attacks.

Types of social engineering attacks

Social engineering tactics have many different faces, each with its unique disguise:


The most common type of social engineering, phishing is when threat actors use emails as the bait. These fraudulent emails appear to be from reputable sources to lure unsuspecting individuals to reveal sensitive information.

Spear phishing

A more targeted form of phishing, spear phishing is when the attacker customizes their approach for a specific individual or organization.

Vishing (Voice Phishing)

When a threat actor uses phone calls to trick people into providing sensitive information.

Smishing (SMS Phishing)

Similar to vishing, smishing is when bad actors use text messages as their tool of deception.

Tailgating or Piggybacking

When a threat actor follows someone into a restricted area without having proper authentication or credentials.


When a threat actor offers something enticing to a target in exchange for information or access.

Real-world examples of social engineering in healthcare

Social engineering attacks in healthcare are particularly concerning due to the sensitive nature of the information involved. Here are real-world examples that illustrate how these attacks can occur:

Impersonating IT staff

An attacker calls a healthcare provider’s office, claiming to be from the IT department. They say they need to perform an urgent system update and ask for the employee’s login credentials. Trusting the caller’s authority, the employee provides the information, unknowingly giving the attacker access to patient records and other sensitive data.

Phishing emails targeting patient information

Healthcare staff receive an email that appears to be from a trusted source, like a known medical supplier or institution. The email might contain a link that leads to a fake login page, designed to harvest usernames and passwords. When staff members enter their credentials, they unwittingly provide access to systems containing patient information.

Spear phishing high-profile patients

In this scenario, attackers focus on individuals with high profiles or significant financial resources. They send personalized, deceptive emails to staff members handling these patients’ information, tricking them into divulging confidential data.

Vishing for prescription drugs

Attackers use voice phishing (vishing) to call pharmacies or doctors, impersonating a patient or a healthcare provider. They attempt to obtain prescription drugs illegally by providing false information or altering prescription details.

Tailgating into restricted areas

A threat actor physically follows authorized personnel into restricted areas of a healthcare facility. Once inside, they access unattended computers, steal physical documents, or plant surveillance devices.

Baiting with USB drives

Attackers leave USB drives in areas frequented by healthcare staff, such as parking lots or lounges, that are loaded with malware. When a curious employee finds and uses one of these drives on a hospital computer, it infects the system, allowing attackers access to the network.

How social engineering simulation can help

Simulating real social engineering attacks is often the best way to teach your employees how to respond when faced with a real social engineering attack. Since phishing is the most ubiquitous form of social engineering, seeing how employees react when presented with a realistic but benign email gives you insight into the real human risk at your hospital.

These simulations not only educate employees about the dangers of phishing attacks, but also test their ability to identify and respond to such threats. Employees are also trained in how to respond when faced with a suspected phishing email like reporting the suspect email to the information security team.

Here’s how it works:

Simulated phishing attacks

This approach involves sending realistic, simulated phishing emails to employees within an organization. These emails mimic the tactics and strategies employed by real threat actors, making them difficult to distinguish from genuine messages.

Education and awareness

When an employee interacts with a simulated phishing email, they receive immediate point-of-click feedback on their actions. Receiving training a week or more after the fact does little to nothing when it comes to changing behaviors. If they click on a malicious link or provide sensitive information, they are redirected to educational materials that explain the dangers of their actions and provide guidance on how to avoid falling victim to real phishing attacks.

Data collection and analysis

Managed security awareness training services can collect data on employee responses, helping organizations identify risky users and topics that may require additional organizational training.

Why should your organization implement managed security awareness training?

Managed security awareness training offers several advantages that make it a valuable addition to any organization’s cybersecurity strategy:

Proactive defense

Rather than waiting for a real phishing attack to occur, managed security awareness training allows organizations to proactively assess human risk and improve their employees’ ability to recognize and respond to phishing threats. This approach helps prevent successful phishing attacks before they can cause harm.

Improved cyber awareness

Education is a fundamental component of managed security awareness training. By providing employees with immediate feedback and educational resources, organizations empower their workforce to become the first line of defense against social engineering attacks.

Data-driven insights

By analyzing employee behaviors, organizations can identify patterns, trends, and areas where additional training or security measures are needed. This data-driven approach enables targeted improvements in security awareness and reduction of human risk.

Reduced risk and cost

Managed security awareness training help organizations mitigate the risks associated with a successful social engineering attack, including data breaches, financial losses, and reputational damage. In the long run, this proactive approach can lead to significant cost savings.

Compliance requirements

Many industries and regulatory bodies require organizations to implement cybersecurity awareness and training programs. Managed security awareness training can help organizations meet these compliance requirements effectively and efficiently.

Managed security awareness training is a valuable tool in the ongoing battle against phishing and other social engineering attacks. By investing in managed security awareness training services, organizations can reduce their vulnerability to cyberattacks, protect sensitive data, and fortify their overall cybersecurity posture.

People-first prevention

Protecting your healthcare organization from social engineering is a continuous journey, not a one-time fix. By implementing robust security protocols and regular staff training on how to recognize and respond to social engineering attempts, you’re building a human fortress that guards not just your data, but the trust of those you serve in healthcare.

For real-world guidance on how to cultivate the cybersecurity culture you want and need within your healthcare organization, check out our on-demand webinar.