Social Engineering Attack Counter Measures
By Stephen Bucaro
Kevin Mitnick is a world renowned hacker who has gained unauthorized access to many secure
computer networks, including that of Pacific Bell, Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company,
DEC, TRW, GTE, and many others. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to 12 months in
prison. Upon questioning as to how he was able to successfully break into so many protected
networks, he revealed that in many cases he simply called the company and asked for the password.
That's right; he simply called the company and asked for the password. This type of hacking
has become know as "Social Engineering". Social engineering means tricking people into performing
actions or divulging confidential information. Kevin Mitnick is now a security consultant who advises
companies on how to secure their systems, including securing them from social engineering attacks.
Three common methods of fooling or manipulating people into divulging confidential information
are; Pretexting, Baiting, and Phishing.
Pretexting is creating a false reason or false story (the pretext) for needing the confidential
information. One part of it might be convincing the target that you have the authority to access
the information. Pretexting might require the hacker to contact the business several times
to gather non-confidential information which can be used in a later attack to establish credibility.
Common pretexting scenarios are: Claiming to be a member of the company's help desk or
a service company needing the target's username and password to login to troubleshoot a computer
problem; Claiming to be a member of the police, Internal Revenue Service, or other government
agency needing the victim's username and password to login to gather information for an investigation.
In a baiting attack, the hacker leaves a CD, DVD or USB flash drive, with a legitimate
looking company label, in a location where it looks like it was inadvertently left. The label
should have a curiosity-piquing title, like "Executive Salary Summary". An employee finds it
and either turns it in to a manager who inserts it into a computer, or the employee them self
inserts it into a computer. In either case, the CD, DVD or USB flash drive places a virus on
the system which will give the hacker a back-door into the company's computer network.
In phishing, the hacker sends an email that appears to come from a legitimate business
indicating that, for some very important reason (sometimes even claiming the target's account
has been hacked) the target must click on a link in the email to update or verify their account
information. The link takes them to a web page that seems legitimate - with company logo, and
a form into which they enter their credit card information.
A common phishing scenario is receiving an email sent from eBay indicating that the user's
account will be suspended unless they they click on the link provided to update their credit
card information. The link takes them to a web page with eBay's logo that looks legitimate.
It's very easy for a hacker to get an individuals email address from a user's eBay auction information.