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Social Engineering: A Test of Your Common Sense. By Frederick Gallegos, CISA, CGFM, CDE Computer Info Systems Dept. Social Engineering.

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Social engineering a test of your common sense

Social Engineering: A Test of Your Common Sense

By Frederick Gallegos, CISA, CGFM, CDE

Computer Info Systems Dept

Social engineering
Social Engineering

  • 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 layoff's are floating around.

Social engineering1
Social Engineering

  • 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 so
And so

  • The Game Is In Play: People Are The Easiest TargetYou 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.

Let s take a step back in time
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 Security Consulting employees. 

  • You see, a firm has been hired to perform a Network Security Assessment on your company. 

  • In reality, they have been contracted to hack into your company from the Internet and have been authorized to utilize social engineering techniques.

Bingo gotcha
Bingo - Gotcha

  • 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 the Security firms servers responded by pushing (or downloading) several software tools to your computer. 

  • Tools designed to give the team complete control of your computer.  Now they have a platform, inside your company's network, where they can continue to hack the network.  And, they can do it from inside without even being there.

This is what we call a 180 degree attack
This is what we call a 180 degree attack.

  •   Meaning, the security consulting team 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, the security firm 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.

Welcome to social engineering
Welcome to Social Engineering

  • What would you have done if you found a CD with this type of information on it?

  • Yes it is people who are the weakest link in any security system and Social Engineering Exploits that ---

Phisher site basics
Phisher Site Basics

  • Thief sends e-mail to customer claiming to be a legitimate company which has lost the customer’s personal information

  • Customer reads e-mail and goes to fake website

  • Customer enters credit card or other personal information on website

  • Thief steals personal information

Phisher site e mail example part 1
Phisher Site E-mail Example (part 1)

From: EarthLink <>To: <>Date: 7/6/2003 11:50:02 AMSubject: Billing DepartmentDear EarthLink User,We regret to inform you, but due to a recent system flush, the billing/personal information for your account is temporally unavailable, and we need to verify your identity.


Phisher site e mail example part 2
Phisher Site E-mail Example (part 2)

In order to continue using your EarthLink account and keeping it active, you must provide us with your full information within 24 hours of receiving this message.To re-enter your account information and keep your account active visit:

Sincerely,Sean WrightEarthLink Billing Department

How to spot phisher sites
How to Spot Phisher Sites



  • E-mail looks legit (at first)

  • Prompts you to act quickly to keep service

  • Website, html or fax form looks legit

  • Claims of “lost” information

  • Unfamiliar URL

  • Asks for credit card or other personal info

  • No log in or not secure

  • Most companies will not do this

Tips for avoiding phisher sites
Tips for Avoiding Phisher Sites

  • Be suspicious of email asking for credit card or other personal info

  • URL should be familiar

  • Should require log-in

  • Should be a SECURE SITE

  • Call the company when in doubt

  • Always report spam/fraud to your ISP

Social engineering a test of your common sense

Federal Trade CommissionIdentity Theft Data Clearinghouse Complaints1

Federal Trade Commission







Projected Cumulative Complaint Count 1999-2003: 490,000

Projected Total: 210,000

Total: 161,886

(in thousands)


Total: 86,197

Total: 31,117

Total: 1,380

1Since February 2001, complaint data have also been provided to the Clearinghouse by the Social Security Administration-Office of Inspector General. 2Projections for calendar year 2003 are based on complaints received from January through June 2003.

Social engineering a test of your common sense

Federal Trade Commission

Consumer Sentinel Complaints1

Federal Trade Commission


- Identity Theft Complaints

- Fraud Complaints



(in thousands)







1Percentages are based on the total number of Consumer Sentinel complaints by calendar year.

Social engineering a test of your common sense

Federal Trade Commission



And another
And Another

  • The easiest way to break into any computer system is to use a valid username and password and the easiest way to get that information is to ask someone for it.

The beginning
The Beginning

  • Like many hacking techniques, social engineering got its start in attacks against the telephone company. The hacker (or phone phreaks, as they used to be called) would dial-up an operator and by using the right jargon, convince him or her to make a connection or share some information that should not have been shared.

In reality
In Reality

  • social engineering is probably as old as speech, and goes back to the first lie.

  • It is still successful today because people are generally helpful, especially to someone who is nice, knowledgeable, and / or insistent.

  • No amount of technology can protect you against a social engineering attack.

So how do you protect yourself from yourself
So How Do You Protect Yourself from Yourself?

  • Recognizing an Attack

    • You can prepare your organization by teaching people how to recognize a possible social engineering attack. Do we have a Cyber Security & Ethics 101 Class?

  • Prevent a successful attack

    • You can prepare a defense against this form of social engineering by including instructions in your security policy for handling it.

So how do you protect yourself from yourself1
So How Do You Protect Yourself from Yourself?

  • Create a response plan

    • Your response plan should include instructions on how to deal with inquiries relating to passwords or other classified information.

  • Implement and Monitor the response plan and continue to reinforce with Training

Target and attack
Target And Attack

  • The basic goals of social engineering are the same as hacking in general: to gain unauthorized access to systems or information in order to commit fraud, network intrusion, industrial espionage, identity theft, or simply to disrupt the system or network.

  • Typical targets include telephone companies and answering services, big-name corporations and financial institutions, military and government agencies, and hospitals.

  • The Internet boom had its share of industrial engineering attacks in start-ups as well, but attacks generally focus on larger entities.

And another1
And Another

  • One morning a few years back, a group of strangers walked into a large shipping firm and walked out with access to the firm’s entire corporate network.

  • How did they do it? By obtaining small amounts of access, bit by bit, from a number of different employees in that firm. First, they did research about the company for two days before even attempting to set foot on the premises.

And so on
And so on…

  • For example, they learned key employees’ names by calling HR. Next, they pretended to lose their key to the front door, and a man let them in. Then they "lost" their identity badges when entering the third floor secured area, smiled, and a friendly employee opened the door for them.

And so on1
And so on…

  • The strangers knew the CFO was out of town, so they were able to enter his office and obtain financial data off his unlocked computer.

  • They dug through the corporate trash, finding all kinds of useful documents.

  • They asked a janitor for a garbage pail in which to place their contents and carried all of this data out of the building in their hands.

  • The strangers had studied the CFO's voice, so they were able to phone, pretending to be the CFO, in a rush, desperately in need of his network password. From there, they used regular technical hacking tools to gain super-user access into the system.

Common techniques
Common Techniques

  • Social Engineering by Phone

  • Dumpster Diving

  • On-line Social Engineering

  • Persuasion

  • Reverse Social Engineering

  • And many more….

Defining the term social engineering
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 particular task.

  • The prey is not just you but your children and elders as well

A challenge to the csu
A Challenge to the CSU

  • This is the 21st Century The Time of CyberSpace

  • Why is their No Formal GE Requirement for CyberSecurity and Ethics which can not only be taught at the CSU level but the CC level as well?

  • Why don’t we extend this education to K-12 and Senior Centers as well?

Mt sac and cal poly efforts
Mt. SAC and Cal Poly Efforts

  • NSF Grant Project – Establishment of a Regional Information Systems Security Center (RISSC see )

  • Cal Poly’s Participation in the Title V Grant and development of Network Security curriculum

  • Cal Poly Pomona’s Establishment of a Center for Information Assurance (see )

Please join us for
Please join US for

  • Information Assurance SymposiumBuilding Information Assurance Capacity and Improving Infrastructure at Minority Serving InstitutionsDecember 8 - 10, 2005Cal Poly Pomona8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Contribute to
Contribute to:

  • Information Sharing

  • Curriculum Development

  • Awareness, Knowledge and Development of initiatives to help others around us be better at practicing good security techniques

  • Our thanks to Educause, ISACA, ISSA, IIA and HTCIA for their support