You are the firewall


Learn the tricks of the criminal attackers to be prepared against social engineering attacks and make your company more secure.

In Germany, every second company was the victim of digital industrial spionage, sabotage or data theft, resulting in damages of around 43 billion euros (source: bitkom). 19% of the attacks fell into the area of social engineering - the targeted manipulation of employees in order to gain access to sensitive information or to place malware on company computers.

IT-Seal's 'Stay altert' Campaign offers you a tool to arm yourself against social engineering attacks: What types of social engineering are there? What is the aim of the attackers? What is the concrete procedure? How do I recognize a phishing e-mail? How do I recognize the target of a link? You will find the answers to these questions here.

Have fun – and stay alert

You are the firewall of your company!


Basic knowledge of phishing & social engineering. Reading time: 12 minutes

The term Social engineering describes interpersonal techniques for influencing others to achieve a specific goal. If social engineering is combined with negative intentions, it can be used for harmful purposes. Social engineering attacks use everyday social interactions. (e.g. a telephone conversation or an e-mail). The attacker tries to get the target to follow certain requests in order to gain access to information or company networks.
As the protection provided by technical security systems becomes increasingly difficult to bypass, social engineering is gaining popularity: it is often technically impossible to detect such attacks. It is therefore essential that every employee pays attention to the topic of IT security and is aware of possible threats.
If social engineering attacks are successful, then this is usually not due to intentional malicious behavior by employees. Attackers use various psychological tricks and social norms to create situations that are not perceived as dangerous at first. The following table lists various human behavior patterns and illustrates how these are exploited in social engineering attacks.



Possible reaction

Possible risk

Prejudices / Expectations
A technician requests access to the server room.
Access is of course granted.
The clothing of the technician is a prop and criminals can access sensitive data undisturbed.
While being on vacation the boss instructs an urgent payment to a new partner company.
The instruction is quickly followed.
Criminals have exploited publicly available information in order to impersonate the boss as realistically as possible ('CEO-Fraud').
You find a USB stick in the car park. Who does it belong to?
The USB stick is plugged in to identify the owner.
The USB stick contains malware that (unnoticeably) infects the computer and the system.
Like every morning, you're going to answer your e-mails
... and click on the link in a well-made phishing e-mail.
The link leads to a malicious website, which infects your computer with malware
A note from Amazon pops up in your mailbox: If you do not verify your account within a few days, a processing fee will be charged.
You verify your account by entering your login information on a cloned login page.
Criminals have your credentials and thus have access to your account.
Willingness to help
An alleged colleague contacts you by e-mail about a problem and sends you a file attachment.
The file is opened - maybe you can help your colleague.
The file contains malware that (unnoticeably) infects the computer and the system.
In combination with time pressure and the demand for secrecy, criminals often reach their goal quickly using these patterns of behaviour.

The term phishing is derived from the English word fishing and refers to an attempt to scam, usually by e-mail. Figuratively speaking, it is about fishing for passwords, whereby personal data is misused or the owner of a bank account is harmed. In addition, spy software, encryption trojans or other files harmful to the computer system are often sent.
For example, you receive a real-looking e-mail from a well-known company (Amazon, PayPal, Google, etc.), or even from your own colleague or boss. For targeted phishing attacks (spear phishing) attackers often collect useful information in advance on social networks, job portals or the company website in order to make the attack scenario as realistic as possible. Phishing e-mails often request that login data be updated, important payments be made or credit card information be entered. They also increasingly contain malicious files or lead to automatic downloads of malware via attached links.

Example phishing emailExample spear phishing email
If you fall for a phishing e-mail, this can have far-reaching consequences. The following list gives some examples of how private individuals and especially companies have been harmed by phishing.



Loss of login data
During the 2016 US election campaign, attackers gained access to the email account of Hillary Clinton's campaign manager with a deceptively genuine account warning from Google. The information obtained caused massive damage to the presidential candidate.
Transfers to unknown third parties
The German automotive supplier Leoni AG was relieved of 40 million euros in 2016 by criminals repeatedly attacking with the so called 'CEO-Fraud'.
Failure of IT systems
Using encryption trojans, entire companies or public institutions can be paralysed for days or weeks. The poison of choice is ransomware (i.e. the encryption is linked to a ransom demand), such as Locky, WannaCry or GoldenEye. In 2016, the IT department of the Lukas Hospital in Neuss became the victim of a ransomware attack. As a result, operations had to be postponed and emergencies rejected.
Loss of data
According to IBM Security, in 2016, over four billion records were stolen.
Ransom demand
After encrypting the data on the computer and the system, cyber criminals then demand a ransom - if no backups have been made, the data will otherwise be lost and systems will not be usable. And also the import of backups costs time and money and demands valuable working time from colleagues.
Industrial espionage
It is generally and publicly known that a large number of foreign states are actively and constantly engaged in industrial espionage. They hire professional hacker groups to carry out targeted cyber attacks on a daily basis. Attacks range from the placement of spy software to the use of malware.
Physical damage
Successful attacks can lead to the failure of entire systems. In 2014, for example, a blast furnace in Germany was severely damaged because malicious software infiltrated the furnace and prevented it from being shut down properly.
Breaches of data protection
Phishing attacks lead to major data protection violations on a daily basis. Identity theft is just one example, along with the disclosure of sensitive company data, passwords or internal documents.
In the following, we will show you various ways in which you can protect yourself and your company from phishing and social engineering attacks.

The most important rule is to always be sceptical and vigilant. If a message appears suspicious, the sender should be contacted directly via a known route. In most cases, a short phone call or an inquiry in the internal short message service is enough. There are no stupid questions: if ten false alarms help to prevent an attack, it saves the resources of the IT department.
Sometimes phishing e-mails are already conspicuous by their sender as fake: Attackers use sender addresses such as @amazon-shipping instead of . instead of @it-seal.deto feign legitimacy. However, in most cases, the sender address of an e-mail is as easy to fake as that of a letter - therefore even a supposedly legitimate sender offers no security!

The following points often indicate that the message is fraudulent:



Unusual writing style, deceptive subject, grammar and spelling errors
Doesn't the colleague uaslly write more open and loose? Be skeptical!
Zum Teil fallen gefälschte E-Mails durch Grammatikfehler oder unsinnige Wörter auf, da die Nachrichten häufig mit einem Online-Übersetzungsdienst übersetzt werden.
Missing name / unusual address
A bank or partner company would never address you as 'Dear Mr Customer'.
Urgent need for action is generated
You are asked to act quickly - sometimes this is even combined with a threat. This is where you should become suspicious. Get a second opinion from a colleague or call the sender directly and ask.
Request to enter data
Passwords, PINs and TANs are never requested via phone from colleagues, your favourite online store or a bank; this is one of the most important security rules.
Prompt to open a file / activate the edit mode
You should never download or open files in unexpected emails, as they may contain malware and infect your computer.
Inserted HTML-links or forms
Hyperlinks should always be checked before they are clicked. In doing so, pay close attention to where the link refers to. For a detailed explanation of how to check the destination of a link, see the next section.

Hyperlinks are parts of text which, when clicked, refer to the linked target. This is usually a website. While in some phishing e-mails parts of the text are linked (e.g. '... find hier'), others display the link as a whole.
Analyse the link target in detail: The relevant part of a link can be found in the so-called 'Who-Area'. If you read from http(s):// to the next ''/", it is located around the last point before the '/'. The rest of the link is completely negligible. In the following examples the Who-Area is marked bold.
Safe example: refers to
Phishing example: refers to

Have a look at the following links and pay attention to the Who-Section: Which links are real and which are fake?

who area in the URL
Here you will get to the resolution – but check the link before you click!
If you are unsure about the destination of a link, you can visit to check it.

Phishing attacks work especially well if they are designed as realistically as possible. In order to do this, the attacker needs information about his target person. With so-called spear phishing criminals use publicly visible data on social media such as Facebook or Instagram, on job portals such as Xing or LinkedIn, on news sites or on the company website. Therefore the first and most important recommendation is data minimization. Check what information you share with whom. Especially your contacts, the position in the company or interests. For example, configure your privacy settings on Xing so that your contacts are not publicly visible.
Furthermore, regular updates are essential, for example to prevent attacks via browser or plug-in vulnerabilities. Outdated versions may contain security gaps that make it very easy for attackers to infect your computer. For many operating systems, updates are only installed on restart. Therefore, do not only switch your computer to stand-by, but regularly switch it off completely.
In the past, the browser plugin Adobe Flash Player has repeatedly attracted attention due to security vulnerabilities. It is required to display certain content on websites. In various attacks, computers were infected unnoticed simply by visiting a website. You should deactivate the Flash Player by default, so that it will only be executed after your consent.
Listen to your gut! There are often small discrepancies in a phishing e-mail, which can easily be overlooked in stress situations or due to automatisms. As soon as even a small question mark appears, check the e-mail more closely. You have learned to recognize fake links. You can check file attachments before opening them with the help of your virus scanner. To do this, download the file and right-click on it to select the correct option. Particular care should be taken with MS Office documents with macros (e.g. docm). These can download malicious code as soon as the macros are activated and are usually not detected by virus scanners. Therefore, only activate macros if the origin of the document is absolutely trustworthy. .zip files are frequently used by criminals. In this case, even opening it can result in the execution of malware. If you are not sure: Just ask. The sender, the IT department or colleagues. 

We recommend the five-minute Aufklärvideo educational video about online fraud - detecting and averting dangers.
License: CC BY_SA 4.0:, video only available in German
A film by: Design & Animation MotionEnsemble, idea / koncept: Prof. Dr. Melanie Volkamer ( & Alexander Lehmann (, Stimme Florian Maerlender (

If you feel that you have been tricked by a phishing attack, you should react quickly. The longer you wait, the greater the potential damage. The right reaction depends on the type of error.
If you have passed on your password by entering it on a fake login page, you should change the password immediately or block your account .
If you may have downloaded malware, immediately disconnect the network cable and the disconnect the computer from the W-LAN.
In any case, you should immediately inform the IT department about the incident.

Many phishing e-mails are difficult for virus scanners and firewalls to detect as such, as they often do not contain any malware as an attachment, but reload it. This is done via an inserted link which, when clicked, initiates the download of an unknown file without further action. This is called 'drive-by-download'. Attacks such as the CEO-Fraud work without any malware at all: The payment order allegedly requested by a member of management consists of pure text and is therefore impossible to detect technically.
People are increasingly in the focus of attacks by cyber criminals as they are a weak point, because they can represent the biggest security gap in an organization. Trained employees however offer great potential for achieving a high level of security. This is why it is so important that every employee is aware of phishing, so that he or she can safely recognize these kind of attacks and knows how to behave professionally.
Therefore IT-Seal offers the Awareness Academy . Part of our Phishing Academy is a phishing awareness training. On the one hand, this measures the security standard against social engineering attacks in the company, and on the other hand, it enables the knowledge and security awareness of the employees to be brought up to date. With every 'wrong' click on our phishing emails, all participants are immediately and with little effort taught by a so-called Most Teachable Moment how to detect and professionally interact with phishing attacks.
We recommend the following tools to private users and companies alike:
  • The free learning concept NoPhish enables you to easily learn the basics of how to detect a phishing e-mail. It is available as an online platform as well as an iOS and Android app. You can find more information in our blog entry about NoPhish. NoPhish was developed by SECUSO, a research group of the KIT.
  • If you use Thunderbird as your e-mail client, we recommend the add-on Torpedo . Torpedo helps you to detect harmful links. We also published a blog entry about this. Torpedo was developed by SECUSO, a research group of the KIT.
  • PassSec+ for Mozilla Firefox recognizes unencrypted web pages and warns you when entering login data. PassSec+ helps protecting against many attacks in which login data is to be tapped. It was developed by SECUSO, a research group of the KIT.
  • If you feel like there is something off: lets you check URLs so you can safely click or ignore the link in question. Files can be checked as well - but be careful which files you upload, there might be sensible information in your file.
  • Use different passwords for different accounts and change them regularly - otherwise potential attackers will have access to all your accounts. A Password manager like KeePass can help you to keep an overview: With it you only need to remember one master password.

IT-Seal logo

Behind IT-Seal (Social Engineering Analysis Labs) are IT security experts for building a sustainable security culture. We help companies and their employees to reduce the dangers and damages caused by social engineering attacks to a minimum. For this purpose, respectful but effective and authentic attack simulations are carried out. On the one hand, this makes the company's security standard measurable, and on the other hand, all participants learn how to deal with cyber attacks in a safe environment. The simulation of attacks is mostly carried out via e-mail and includes different levels of difficulty. The work and data privacy of the participating employees is always our top priority. In our phishing evaluations, we only report on group-related behavior - individual behavior is not communicated at any time.

We pursue a full-service concept and offer needs-based training with our innovative Awareness Engine: Participants who are already confident in recognizing phishing attacks are not disturbed in their everyday work. However, if an employee clicks on one of our phishing e-mails, he or she is shown directly on the example of this e-mail how he or she could have unmasked it as such. Thus, each participant receives as much training as necessary, but as little as possible.

The goal is to support companies in establishing an actively practiced safety culture based on sustainably sensitized employees who know and accept their responsibility for the company. Everyone pulls together to increase the security of their company.

That sounds interesting? Test our free phishing simulation: As a participant in our demo you will receive four phishing e-mails within two working days. If you click (by mistake or out of curiosity) on a link contained in the emails, you will be taken to our explanation page.

 Test now

  • Security Awareness made measurable with our ESI®: The Employee Security Index is a scientific benchmark for measuring IT security awareness in organizations. It also enables comparability. Which department or industry is sensitized and how? Where are measures still needed? With the ESI®, a key performance indicator of information security, this becomes visible.
  • Defence against spear phishing by criminals: In order to make employees as aware as possible of attacks by cyber criminals, we have developed the patented Spear Phishing Engine. This collects publicly available information from professional networks (Open Source Intelligence, OSINT for short) and creates realistic spear phishing simulations based on this information with personalized addressing and authentic content. We want employees to be able to train for the real thing with realistic and confidence-inspiring messages. We do not operate generic "mass phishing".
  • Our co-founder and CEO David Kelm is an accomplished social engineering expert: David Kelm  has been working on the topic of social engineering (employee manipulation by criminals) since 2012. Kelm won the "Best Student Award" from the German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) for his scientific findings on the "human factor" in IT security. He is convinced that employees with the right learning approach can become the "human firewall" of their company - instead of endangering its security..
  • Our work is based on scientific research:: Our measures for the sensitization of employees against spear phishing as well as their success measurement are based on successful research. With David Kelm, our start-up, which is a spin-off of the TU-Darmstadt, also has a well-versed expert in social engineering, especially spear phishing, at its head.
  • Data protection and employee convenience go hand in hand:  Since we want to sensitize employees but not to malign them, we make sure that they always remain anonymous in the evaluation. We only evaluate the success of our measures on a group basis and our data processing is of course in compliance with the GDPR.
  • Made in Germany: IT-Seal is a German company that specialises mainly in the German market. Business customers based here therefore receive GDPR-compliant services from us, which also comply with the legal provisions applicable here in other respects. Already during the development of our solutions, we place the focus on employee and data protection ("security & privacy by design").
  • The first local cyber security campaign in Germany: With "Stay Alert, Darmstadt!” we have launched an unprecedented initiative with the "City of Science" Darmstadt and the Digital City Darmstadt, which offers citizens free IT security training and sensitizes them to phishing.
  • Multiple awards: We have won the following prizes for our measures to increase the awareness of employees and our ideas for measuring and comparing these measures:
            – 1st place - Best Cybersecurity Startup of Germany @it-sa
           – 1st place in the pan-European social engineering competition @TREsPASS_Project
           – Top 10 of the best Cyber Security Startups in Europe @SBA_Research
           – "Best Student Award" of the Federal Office for Information Security (prize winner: our co-founder and creative mind) David Kelm
More information about us you find atWhy IT-Seal?" Do you have any questions? We are looking forward to hearing from you!


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