Human Cognition through the Lens of Social Engineering Cyberattacks

Social engineering cyberattacks are a major threat because they often prelude sophisticated and devastating cyberattacks. Social engineering cyberattacks are a kind of psychological attack that exploits weaknesses in human cognitive functions. Adequate defense against social engineering cyberattacks requires a deeper understanding of what aspects of human cognition are exploited by these cyberattacks, why humans are susceptible to these cyberattacks, and how we can minimize or at least mitigate their damage. These questions have received some amount of attention but the state-of-the-art understanding is superficial and scattered in the literature. In this paper, we review human cognition through the lens of social engineering cyberattacks. Then, we propose an extended framework of human cognitive functions to accommodate social engineering cyberattacks. We cast existing studies on various aspects of social engineering cyberattacks into the extended framework, while drawing a number of insights that represent the current understanding and shed light on future research directions. The extended framework might inspire future research endeavors towards a new sub-field that can be called Cybersecurity Cognitive Psychology, which tailors or adapts principles of Cognitive Psychology to the cybersecurity domain while embracing new notions and concepts that are unique to the cybersecurity domain.


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