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Ransomware vs Social Engineering: What’s The Difference?

Ransomware vs Social Engineering: What’s The Difference?

Let’s face it: We will never have a world in which everyone is a cybersecurity expert. Besides, not everyone needs to have that degree of knowledge. However, everyone needs to understand the basic concepts thereof. In a world where computers (and the internet) are involved in just about everything, it is foolish to think that you can afford to remain uneducated in this field. Everyone needs to understand the basic kinds of threats and methods, at the very least. With that in mind, let’s talk about the differences and similarities between a ransomware attack and a social engineering attack.

What Is Ransomware?

Ransomware is a particular type of malware (harmful software) that uses encryption as a tool of blackmail. Once this type of malware has been surreptitiously installed and activated, it will encrypt the entire drive with a strong and random password. Only the owner of the ransomware will be able to access that password, leaving you locked out of your device and/or your entire network. As you might guess, a ransom payment is then demanded by the hackers.

What Is A Social Engineering Hack?

This is a term that describes a wide range of scams and cyberattacks. It is more like a category, and it includes any method that targets people and tries to trick them (as opposed to attacking the technology). These attacks usually involve elaborate deceptions that are designed to trick you into giving up login credentials. This will often involve the use of fake emails and/or fake web pages that impersonate respected companies/authorities. This tactic could be described as a cross between technology-based hacking and old-fashioned scam artistry.

How Are These Things Similar?

There is some degree of crossover between ransomware attacks and social engineering attacks. As we mentioned in the section about ransomware attacks, they are accomplished through the use of specialized software that must be installed and activated without the target’s knowledge. Thus, the attacker must get over that initial “hurdle” and social engineering attacks represent the easiest way to do so.

By using a fraudulent link (possibly embedded in a spoofed page), they might trick you into downloading their malware by disguising it as a Windows update or some kind of specific software update. They might impersonate a social media site or an e-commerce site in order to further the deception. Either way, social engineering attacks are often the first step of a ransomware attack.

These attacks are also quite similar in their goals and results. Both ransomware and social engineering are generally aimed at the acquisition of profit. In the case of ransomware, that profit comes in the form of ransomware payments. In the case of social engineering, the profit is made in a less direct fashion. Rather than extort the money from you directly, they gain access to important accounts and transfer that money to themselves.

How Do These Things Differ?

In essence, these are two completely different tactics. A social engineering attack might be compared to stealing someone’s keys so that you can rob their house. A ransomware attack, on the other hand, is just a more high-tech form of blackmail.

When someone performs a ransomware attack, they want a simple cash payout. However, when someone does a social engineering attack, they may have more elaborate goals. Rather than stealing your money, they may simply want useful data. There are plenty of ways in which data can be turned into profit. For instance, they could sell your most sensitive information to your competitors. As long as those competitors can buy that information confidentially, they are unlikely to turn down such an offer.

Which Of These Attacks Are More Common?

Both of these attack types are very common and very dangerous. For this reason, they continue to be two of the biggest overall cybersecurity threats. To find out which of these attacks are more common, let’s try to find out how many attacks of each type happened in 2020. Obviously, this data will be limited to reported attacks, but we have no choice in that regard.

According to most sources, the ransomware threat is growing at an exponential rate. Criminals have learned that this is an effective tactic that can generate huge profits, so they are using it to the fullest. According to this source, a new business was hit with ransomware every 14 seconds.

This number is all we need. There are 1,440 seconds in a day. That means there are 525,600 seconds in a year. 525,600 seconds divided by 14 equals roughly 37,543 attacks per year, and that rate is probably accelerating. Now let’s think about social engineering attacks and how many of those occurred in the same year.

We found some FBI statistics to be very helpful here. These statistics mostly relate to phishing, which is the most common form of social engineering attack (by far). They reported a total of 241,324 incidents in 2020. That averages out to 661 attacks per day, 27.5 attacks per hour, and 0.45 attacks per minute. These are very frequent, but it seems that ransomware probably occurs more often.

Preventing Ransomware And Social Engineering Attacks

Because most ransomware attacks begin as social engineering attacks, they can be repelled with similar methods. The main remedy for social engineering is intelligence combined with awareness and education. It is important to be suspicious of all unsolicited communications, particularly if they contain links or requests for confidential information. Understand that it is easy to embed a keylogger program on a page that you have created. Thus, anytime you type your confidential information, you need to make sure that you are on a legitimate and secure site.


As we said earlier, these are two completely different methods of attack, both of which are very prevalent. They don’t have a whole lot in common as far as tactics are concerned, but their goals are generally the same: To scam you out of money and/or valuable data. If you would like to learn more or purchase local managed IT services for better security, you can call PCH Technologies at (856) 754-7500.