Monday morning, 6am; the electric rooster is telling you
it's time to start a new work week. A shower, some coffee,
and you're in the car and off. On the way to work you're
thinking of all you need to accomplished this week. Then,
on top of that there's the recent merger between your
company and a competitor. One of your associates told you,
you better be on your toes because rumors of layoffs are
You arrive at the office and stop by the restroom to make
sure you look your best. You straighten your tie, and turn
to head to your cube when you notice, sitting on the back of
the sink, is a CD-ROM. Someone must have left this behind by
accident. You pick it up and notice there is a label on it.
The label reads "2005 Financials & Layoff's". You get a
sinking feeling in your stomach and hurry to your desk. It
looks like your associate has good reasons for concern, and
you're about to find out for your self.
And The "Social Engineering" Game Is In Play:
People Are The Easiest Target
You make it to your desk and insert the CD-ROM. You find
several files on the CD, including a spreadsheet which you
quickly open. The spreadsheet contains a list of employee
names, start dates, salaries, and a note field that says
"Release" or "Retain". You quickly search for your name but
cannot find it. In fact, many of the names don't seem
familiar. Why would they, this is pretty large company, you
don't know everyone. Since your name is not on the list you
feel a bit of relief. It's time to turn this over to your
boss. Your boss thanks you and you head back to your desk.
You have just become a victim of social engineering.
When Did I Become a Victim of Social Engineering?
Ok, let's take a step back in time. The CD you found in the
restroom, it was not left there by accident. It was
strategically placed there by me, or one of my employees.
You see, my firm has been hired to perform a Network
Security Assessment on your company. In reality, we've been
contracted to hack into your company from the Internet and
have been authorized to utilize social engineering
The spreadsheet you opened was not the only thing executing
on your computer. The moment you open that file you caused a
script to execute which installed a few files on your
computer. Those files were designed to call home and make a
connection to one of our servers on the Internet. Once the
connection was made the software on our servers responded by
pushing (or downloading) several software tools to your
computer. Tools designed to give us complete control of
your computer. Now we have a platform, inside your
company's network, where we can continue to hack the
network. And, we can do it from inside without even being
This is what we call a 180 degree attack. Meaning, we did
not have to defeat the security measures of your company's
firewall from the Internet. You took care of that for us.
Many organizations give their employees unfettered access
(or impose limited control) to the Internet. Given this
fact, we devised a method for attacking the network from
within with the explicit purpose of gaining control of a
computer on the private network. All we had to do is get
someone inside to do it for us - Social Engineering!
What would you have done if you found a CD with this type of
information on it?
What Does It Mean to Be "Human"
As human beings we are pretty bad at evaluating risk. Self
preservation, whether it be from physical danger or any
other event that could cause harm, like the loss of a job or
income, is a pretty strong human trait. The odd thing is,
we tend to worry about things that are not likely to happen.
Many people think nothing of climbing a 12 foot ladder to
replace an old ceiling fan (sometimes doing so with the
electricity still on), but fear getting on a plane. You have
a better chance severely inuring yourself climbing a ladder
than you do taking a plane ride.
This knowledge gives the social engineer the tools needed to
entice another person to take a certain course of action.
Because of human weaknesses, inability to properly assess
certain risk, and need to believe most people are good, we
are an easy target.
In fact, chances are you have been a victim of social
engineering many times during the course of your life. For
instance, it is my opinion that peer pressure is a form of
social engineering. Some of the best sales people I've
known are very effective social engineers. Direct marketing
can be considered a form of social engineering. How many
times have you purchased something only to find out you
really did not need it? Why did you purchase it? Because
you were lead to believe you must.
Defining The Term "Social Engineering": In the world of
computers and technology, social engineering is a technique
used to obtain or attempt to obtain secure information by
tricking an individual into revealing the information.
Social engineering is normally quite successful because most
targets (or victims) want to trust people and provide as
much help as possible. Victims of social engineering
typically have no idea they have been conned out of useful
information or have been tricked into performing a
The main thing to remember is to rely on common sense. If
some one calls you asking for your login and password
information and states they are from the technical
department, do not give them the information. Even if the
number on your phone display seems to be from within your
company. I can't tell you how many times we have
successfully used that technique. A good way of reducing
your risk of becoming a victim of social engineering is to
ask questions. Most hackers don't have time for this and
will not consider someone who asks questions an easy
About The Author
Darren Miller is an Industry leading computer and internet
security consultant. At the website -
http://www.defendingthenet.com you will find information about
computer security specifically design to assist home, home
office, and small business computer users. Sign up for
defending the nets newsletter and become empowered
to stay safe on the Internet. You can reach Darren at
firstname.lastname@example.org or at