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Social Engineering

Updated on November 9, 2013

Social Engineering Attacks

This lens is about how social engineering attacks are attempted against companies in order to gain access to computer system, data or other company assets. Social attacks are attacks which use employees as a way to gain unauthorized access and information about a company. Companies often hire security consultants to perform penetration tests against their facility to learn where the company has security weaknesses and the social engineering method is often attempted. If you are tasked with trying social engineering attacks, make sure you have written permission to avoid legal issues. This lens will cover social engineering attacks as well as methods to further access once access is achieved.

READ The Social Engineers Toolbox article by Steve Stasiukonis. This article taught me a few new tricks to use. Also read The Guide to Neuroscience for Social Engineers from A great web site on this topic is with many great newsletters.

Icon obtained from DonnellyImages at

Plan your Reconnaissance - Have a method to your madness!

The key to successfully using social engineering is to gather as much information as possible before attempting an attack and to have a fall back plan. Check out the process by watching the Tiger Team exploit an auto dealership. The main steps are to follow steps that will lead to a compromise. Gather intelligence, scan for vulnerable spots that can be leveraged, Plan, Exploit and Execute, Dig for Treasure (targets the victim is very sensitive about).

  • Visit the company's web site and gather employee names and addresses of remote locations. Email addresses could be used for a phishing attack to gain access or user credentials. You might also locate the help desk number and masquerade as an employee who has lost their password.
  • Can you identify the phone numbers associated with the business. Attacking the PBX phone exchange is a potential path for gaining more information.
  • Remember your college days? Dumpster diving can often lead to valuable information such as business contracts, employee names and who knows what else? Most companies now pay for shredding services to ensure sensitive information is not obtained by outsiders.
  • Set up surveillance and watch if employees or technicians have uniforms. It is often trivial to have patches or uniforms made to match a companies business attire or uniforms of service technician working at a location.
  • Check out the building location. Does the company own the building or is it shared with other companies? Have someone visit the front desk to ask a simple question. What security devices do you see? Pin locks, smart card readers?
  • Is a wireless network available from outside the building or from the lobby? A wireless attack might simplify the need for a social attack.
  • Can you monitor internal communications remotely? Are they using a wireless unprotected phone system?

Tools...Don't forget your tools.

You might need a few tools to help if you are not MacGyver! Tools are usually used after physical access is gained.

When I mention Steve below, I am giving him credit for a mentioned idea which I did not know or think about until reading The Social Engineers Toolbox" article by Steve Stasiukonis.

  • Use wireless attacks if possible.
  • Lock Picks. Lock picking is becoming a new skill many computer security professionals are acquiring. If you can get physical access to the building the game is almost over.
  • A hammer and a screw driver. You will often find that the hinges on the data center's large doors to bring in equipment.
  • Steve notes that 1/4" copper tubing can often be molded and used to slide under data center doors to reach the handle from the inside.
  • Can a sound amplifier be used to listen in on employees entering or having lunch outside the building? You might learn names or current company topics.
  • Steve notes that some phone systems use RF frequencies and a RF scanner might be able to capture internal phone conversations.
  • While I have always known about sneaking in behind someone, Steve notes that a laser range finder can be used to stage yourself at an appropriate distance behind employees to follow them in when they open a door. I need to pick one of these up!
  • Steve says a night vision with infrared illumination can help you monitor activity at a location after hours.
  • Digital Audio Recorder to capture conversations.
  • Digital camera
  • Media, preloaded with exploit code. There is hardly anything as powerful as a USB drive or CDROM labeled like, Payroll, Bonuses, Layoffs to get the curios to place the device onto a system. Pick an appropriate drop off location like restrooms. CDROMs are also easy to slip under doors.

Social Engineering Tools Online

Use the tools to gather intelligence about your target.

Social Engineering Tools

Here are a few of the odd tools that you might want to have.

Influence Resources from Amazon

Social Engineering relies on the fact that humans like to help each other and usually do not consider that someone may be doing something devious. Learn persuasion skills to improve your results.

Mind Hacks: Tips & Tools for Using Your Brain
Mind Hacks: Tips & Tools for Using Your Brain

A fun read and has a section on winning arguments.

Hacking: The Next Generation (Animal Guide)
Hacking: The Next Generation (Animal Guide)

There is great information in this book on how to conduct social engineering attacks using information about your target from social networking sites.


The Most Important Thing

Ensure all of your employees are given yearly computer security training which discusses social engineering attack vectors and how to deal with them.

Employees should be trained to ask questions - Always report suspecious behavior

  • Phone etiquette: never give out information to unauthorized persons. Always ask for a number where someone can return the call if the call seems suspicious. Never give passwords out on the phone. Do not be intimidated since this is often an attack method. Do a little reverse social engineering.
  • All employees must question unknown individuals walking around in secure areas. Employees must also ensure no one follows them into secure areas without authenticating them selves. Ask for credentials.
  • Report all suspicious phone calls or activities at work. This applies to inside as well as outside of the building.
  • Do not discuss sensitive business topics in public.

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      5 years ago

      Employee education is one of the security team's most valuable assets against Social Engineering. please remember that you must always get permission from the company before to perform any kind of physical or computer attack against a company - or it is illegal.

      check out my lens on Certified Ethical Hackers:


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