آموزش هک ( مهندسی اجتماعی)کوین میتنیک 2
Part 3 is the part of the book where you see how the social engineer ups
the ante, in made-up stories that show how he can step onto your
corporate premises, steal the kind of secret that can make or break your
company, and thwart your hi-tech security measures. The scenarios in this
section will make you aware of threats that range from simple employee
revenge to cyber terrorism. If you value the information that keeps your
business running and the privacy of your data, you’ll want to read
Chapters 10 through 14 from beginning to end.
It’s important to note that unless otherwise stated, the anecdotes in this
book are purely fictional.
In Part 4 I talk the corporate talk about how to prevent successful social
engineering attacks on your organization. Chapter 15 provides a blueprint
for a successful security-training program. And Chapter 16 might just
save your neck – it’s a complete security policy you can customize for
your organization and implement right away to keep your company and
Finally, I’ve provided a Security at a Glance section, which includes
checklists, tables, and charts that summarize key information you can use
to help your employees foil a social engineering attack on the job. These
tools also provide valuable information you can use in devising your own
Throughout the book you’ll also find several useful elements: Lingo boxes
provide definitions of social engineering and computer hacker
terminology; Mitnick Messages offer brief words of wisdom to help
strengthen your security strategy; and notes and sidebars give interesting
background or additional information.
Behind The Scenes
Security’s Weakest Link
A company may have purchased the best security technologies that money
can buy, trained their people so well that they lock up all their secrets
before going home at night, and hired building guards from the best
security firm in the business.
That company is still totally Vulnerable.
Individuals may follow every best-security practice recommended by the
experts, slavishly install every recommended security product, and be
thoroughly vigilant about proper system configuration and applying
Those individuals are still completely vulnerable.
THE HUMAN FACTOR
Testifying before Congress not long ago, I explained that I could often get
passwords and other pieces of sensitive information from companies by
pretending to be someone else and just asking for it.
It’s natural to yearn for a feeling of absolute safety, leading many people
to settle for a false sense of security. Consider the responsible and loving
homeowner who has a Medico, a tumbler lock known as being pickproof,
installed in his front door to protect his wife, his children, and his home.
He’s now comfortable that he has made his family much safer against
intruders. But what about the intruder-who breaks a window, or cracks the
code to the garage door opener? How about installing a robust security
system? Better, but still no guarantee. Expensive locks or no, the
homeowner remains vulnerable.
Why? Because the human factor is truly security’s weakest link.
Security is too often merely an illusion, an illusion sometimes made even
worse when gullibility, naivete, or ignorance come into play. The world’s
most respected scientist of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein, is
quoted as saying, «Only two things are infinite, the universe and human
stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.» In the end, social
engineering attacks can succeed when people are stupid or, more
commonly, simply ignorant about good security practices. With the same
attitude as our security-conscious homeowner, many information
technology (IT) professionals hold to the misconception that they’ve made
their companies largely immune to attack because they’ve deployed
standard security products – firewalls, intrusion detection systems, or
stronger authentication devices such as time-based tokens or biometric
smart cards. Anyone who thinks that security products alone offer true
security is settling for. the illusion of security. It’s a case of living in a
world of fantasy: They will inevitably, later if not sooner, suffer a security
As noted security consultant Bruce Schneier puts it, «Security is not a
product, it’s a process.» Moreover, security is not a technology problem -
it’s a people and management problem.
As developers invent continually better security technologies, making it
increasingly difficult to exploit technical vulnerabilities, attackers will
turn more and more to exploiting the human element. Cracking the human
firewall is often easy, requires no investment beyond the cost of a phone
call, and involves minimal risk.
A CLASSIC CASE OF DECEPTION
What’s the greatest threat to the security of your business assets? That’s
easy: the social engineer–an unscrupulous magician who has you
watching his left hand while with his right he steals your secrets. This
character is often so friendly, glib, and obliging that you’re grateful for
having encountered him.
Take a look at an example of social engineering. Not many people today
still remember the young man named Stanley Mark Rifkin and his little
adventure with the now defunct Security Pacific National Bank in Los
Angeles. Accounts of his escapade vary, and Rifkin (like me) has never
told his own story, so the following is based on published reports.
One day in 1978, Rifkin moseyed over to Security Pacific’s authorizedpersonnel-
only wire-transfer room, where the staff sent and received
transfers totaling several billion dollars every day.
He was working for a company under contract to develop a backup
system for the wire room’s data in case their main computer ever went
down. That role gave him access to the transfer procedures, including how
bank officials arranged for a transfer to be sent. He had learned that bank
officers who were authorized to order wire transfers would be given a
closely guarded daily code each morning to use when calling the wire
In the wire room the clerks saved themselves the trouble of trying to
memorize each day’s code: They wrote down the code on a slip of paper
and posted it where they could see it easily. This particular November day
Rifkin had a specific reason for his visit. He wanted to get a glance at that
Arriving in the wire room, he took some notes on operating procedures,
supposedly to make sure the backup system would mesh properly with the
regular systems. Meanwhile, he surreptitiously read the security code
from the posted slip of paper, and memorized it. A few minutes later he
walked out. As he said afterward, he felt as if he had just won the lottery.
There’s This Swiss Bank Account…
Leaving the room at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, he headed straight
for the pay phone in the building’s marble lobby, where he deposited a
coin and dialed into the wire-transfer room. He then changed hats,
transforming himself from Stanley Rifkin, bank consultant, into Mike
Hansen, a member of the bank’s International Department.
According to one source, the conversation went something like this:
«Hi, this is Mike Hansen in International,» he said to the young woman
who answered the phone.
She asked for the office number. That was standard procedure, and he was
prepared: .286. he said.
The girl then asked, «Okay, what’s the code?»
Rifkin has said that his adrenaline-powered heartbeat «picked up its pace»
at this point. He responded smoothly, «4789.» Then he went on to give
instructions for wiring «Ten million, two-hundred thousand dollars
exactly» to the Irving Trust Company in New York, for credit of the
Wozchod Handels Bank of Zurich, Switzerland, where he had already
established an account.
The girl then said, «Okay, I got that. And now I need the interoffice
Rifkin broke out in a sweat; this was a question he hadn’t anticipated,
something that had slipped through the cracks in his research. But he
managed to stay in character, acted as if everything was fine, and on the
spot answered without missing a beat, «Let me check; I’ll call you right
back.» He changed hats once again to call another department at the bank,
this time claiming to be an employee in the wire-transfer room. He
obtained the settlement number and called the girl back.
She took the number and said, «Thanks.» (Under the circumstances, her
thanking him has to be considered highly ironic.)
A few days later Rifkin flew to Switzerland, picked up his cash, and
handed over $8 million to a Russian agency for a pile of diamonds. He
flew back, passing through U.S. Customs with the stones hidden in a
money belt. He had pulled off the biggest bank heist in history–and done
it without using a gun, even without a computer. Oddly, his caper
eventually made it into the pages of the Guinness Book of World Records
in the category of «biggest computer fraud.»
Stanley Rifkin had used the art of deception–the skills and techniques that
are today called social engineering. Thorough planning and a good gift of
gab is all it really took.
And that’s what this book is about–the techniques of social engineering
(at which yours truly is proficient) and how to defend against their being
used at your company.
THE NATURE OF THE THREAT
The Rifkin story makes perfectly clear how misleading our sense of
security can be. Incidents like this – okay, maybe not $10 million heists,
but harmful incidents nonetheless – are happening every day. You may be
losing money right now, or somebody may be stealing new product plans,
and you don’t even know it. If it hasn’t already happened to your
company, it’s not a question of if it will happen, but when.
A Growing Concern
The Computer Security Institute, in its 2001 survey of computer crime,
reported that 85 percent of responding organizations had detected
computer security breaches in the preceding twelve months. That’s an
astounding number: Only fifteen out of every hundred organizations
responding were able to say that they had not had a security breach during
the year. Equally astounding was the number of organizations that
reported that they had experienced financial losses due to computer
breaches: 64 percent. Well over half the organizations had suffered
financially. In a single year.
My own experiences lead me to believe that the numbers in reports like
this are somewhat inflated. I’m suspicious of the agenda of the people
conducting the survey. But that’s not to say that the damage isn’t
extensive; it is. Those who fail to plan for a security incident are planning
Commercial security products deployed in most companies are mainly
aimed at providing protection against the amateur computer intruder, like
the youngsters known as script kiddies. In fact, these wannabe hackers
with downloaded software are mostly just a nuisance. The greater losses,
the real threats, come from sophisticated attackers with well-defined
targets who are motivated by financial gain. These people focus on one
target at a time rather than, like the amateurs, trying to infiltrate as many
systems as possible. While amateur computer intruders simply go for
quantity, the professionals target information of quality and value.
Technologies like authentication devices (for proving identity), access
control (for managing access to files and system resources), and intrusion
detection systems (the electronic equivalent of burglar alarms) are
necessary to a corporate security program. Yet it’s typical today for a
company to spend more money on coffee than on deploying
countermeasures to protect the organization against security attacks.
Just as the criminal mind cannot resist temptation, the hacker mind is
driven to find ways around powerful security technology safeguards. And
in many cases, they do that by targeting the people who use the
There’s a popular saying that a secure computer is one that’s turned off.
Clever, but false: The pretexter simply talks someone into going into the
office and turning that computer on. An adversary who wants your
information can obtain it, usually in any one of several different ways. It’s
just a matter of time, patience, personality, and persistence. That’s where
the art of deception comes in.
To defeat security measures, an attacker, intruder, or social engineer must
find a way to deceive a trusted user into revealing information, or trick an
unsuspecting mark into providing him with access. When trusted
employees are deceived, influenced, or manipulated into revealing
sensitive information, or performing actions that create a security hole for
the attacker to slip through, no technology in the world can protect a
business. Just as cryptanalysts are sometimes able to reveal the plain text
of a coded message by finding a weakness that lets them bypass the
technology, social engineers use deception practiced on your employees
to bypass security technology.
ABUSE OF TRUST
In most cases, successful social engineers have strong people skills.
They’re charming, polite, and easy to like–social traits needed for
establishing rapid rapport and trust. An experienced social engineer is
able to gain access to virtually any targeted information by using the
strategies and tactics of his craft.
Savvy technologists have painstakingly developed information-security
solutions to minimize the risks connected with the use of computers, yet
left unaddressed the most significant vulnerability, the human factor.
Despite our intellect, we humans – you, me, and everyone else – remain
the most severe threat to each other’s security.
Our National Character
We’re not mindful of the threat, especially in the Western world. In the
United States most of all, we’re not trained to be suspicious of each other.
We are taught to «love thy neighbor» and have trust and faith in each
other. Consider how difficult it is for neighborhood watch organizations
to get people to lock their homes and cars. This sort of vulnerability is
obvious, and yet it seems to be ignored by many who prefer to live in a
dream world – until they get burned.
We know that all people are not kind and honest, but too often we live as
if they were. This lovely innocence has been the fabric of the lives of
Americans and it’s painful to give it up. As a nation we have built into our
concept of freedom that the best places to live are those where locks and
keys are the least necessary.
Most people go on the assumption that they will not be deceived by
others, based upon a belief that the probability of being deceived is very
low; the attacker, understanding this common belief, makes his request
sound so reasonable that it raises no suspicion, all the while exploiting the
That innocence that is part of our national character was evident back
when computers were first being connected remotely. Recall that the
ARPANet (the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects
Network), the predecessor of the Internet, was designed as a way of
sharing research information between government, research, and
educational institutions. The goal was information freedom, as well as
technological advancement. Many educational institutions therefore set up
early computer systems with little or no security. One noted software
libertarian, Richard Stallman, even refused to protect his account with a
But with the Internet being used for electronic commerce, the dangers of
weak security in our wired world have changed dramatically. Deploying
more technology is not going to solve the human security problem.
Just look at our airports today. Security has become paramount, yet we’re
alarmed by media reports of travelers who have been able to circumvent
security and carry potential weapons past checkpoints. How is this
possible during a time when our airports are on such a state of alert? Are
the metal detectors failing? No. The problem isn’t the machines. The
problem is the human factor: The people manning the machines. Airport
officials can marshal the National Guard and install metal detectors and
facial recognition systems, but educating the frontline security staff on
how to properly screen passengers is much more likely to help.
The same problem exists within government, business, and educational
institutions throughout the world. Despite the efforts of security
professionals, information everywhere remains vulnerable and will
continue to be seen as a ripe target by attackers with social engineering
skills, until the weakest link in the security chain, the human link, has
Now more than ever we must learn to stop wishful thinking and become
more aware of the techniques that are being used by those who attempt to
attack the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of our computer
systems and networks. We’ve come to accept the need for defensive
driving; it’s time to accept and learn the practice of defensive computing.
The threat of a break-in that violates your privacy, your mind, or your
company’s information systems may not seem real until it happens. To
avoid such a costly dose of reality, we all need to become aware,
educated, vigilant, and aggressively protective of our information assets,
our own personal information, and our nation’s critical infrastructures.
And we must implement those precautions today.
TERRORISTS AND DECEPTION
Of course, deception isn’t an exclusive tool of the social engineer.
Physical terrorism makes the biggest news, and we have come to realize
before that the world is a dangerous place. Civilization is, after all, just a
The attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., in September 2001
infused sadness and fear into the hearts of every one of us – not just
Americans, but well-meaning people of all nations. We’re now alerted to
the fact that there are obsessive terrorists located around the globe, well -
trained and waiting to launch further attacks against us.
The recently intensified effort by our government has increased the levels
of our security consciousness. We need to stay alert, on guard against all
forms of terrorism. We need to understand how terrorists treacherously
create false identities, assume roles as students and neighbors, and melt
into the crowd. They mask their true beliefs while they plot against us -
practicing tricks of deception similar to those you will read about in these
And while, to the best of my knowledge, terrorists have not yet used
social engineering ruses to infiltrate corporations, water-treatment plants,
electrical generation facilities, or other vital components of our national
infrastructure, the potential is there. It’s just too easy. The security
awareness and security policies that I hope will be put into place and
enforced by corporate senior management because of this book will come
none too soon.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
Corporate security is a question of balance. Too little security leaves your
company vulnerable, but an overemphasis on security gets in the way of
attending to business, inhibiting the company’s growth and prosperity.
The challenge is to achieve a balance between security and productivity.
Other books on corporate security focus on hardware and software
technology, and do not adequately cover the most serious threat of all:
human deception. The purpose of this book, in contrast, is to help you
understand how you, your co-workers, and others in your company are
being manipulated, and the barriers you can erect to stop being victims.
The book focuses mainly on the non-technical methods that hostile
intruders use to steal information, compromise the integrity of information
that is believed to be safe but isn’t., or destroy company work product.
My task is made more difficult by a simple truth: Every reader will have
been manipulated by the grand experts of all time in social engineering -
their parents. They found ways to get you – «for your own good» – to do
what they thought best. Parents become great storytellers in the same way
that social engineers skillfully develop very plausible stories, reasons, and
justifications for achieving their goals. Yes, we were all molded by our
parents: benevolent (and sometimes not so benevolent) social engineers.
Conditioned by that training, we have become vulnerable to manipulation.
We would live a difficult life if we had to be always on our guard,
mistrustful of others, concerned that we might become the dupe of
someone trying to take advantage of us. In a perfect world we would
implicitly trust others, confident that the people we encounter are going to
be honest and trustworthy. But we do not live in a perfect world, and so
we have to exercise a standard of vigilance to repel the deceptive efforts
of our adversaries.
The main portions of this book, Parts 2 and 3, are made up of stories that
show you social engineers in action. In these sections you’ll read about:
. What phone phreaks discovered years ago: A slick method for getting
an unlisted phone number from the telephone company.
. Several different methods used by attackers to convince even alert,
suspicious employees to reveal their computer usernames and
. How an Operations Center manager cooperated in allowing an attacker
to steal his company’s most secret product information.
. The methods of an attacker who deceived a lady into downloading
software that spies on every keystroke she makes and emails the
details to him.
. How private investigators get information about your company, and
about you personally, that I can practically guarantee will send a chill
up your spine.
You might think as you read some of the stories in Parts 2 and 3 that
they’re not possible, that no one could really succeed in getting away with
the lies, dirty tricks, and schemes de, scribed in these pages. The reality is
that in every case, these stories depict events that can and do happen;
many of them are happening every day somewhere on the planet, maybe
even to your business as you read this book.
The material in this book will be a real eye-opener when it comes to
protecting your business, but also personally deflecting the advances of a
social engineer to protect the integrity of information in your private life.
In Part 4 of this book I switch gears. My goal here is to help you create
the necessary business policies and awareness training to minimize the
chances of your employees ever being duped by a social engineer.
Understanding the strategies, methods, and tactics of the social engineer
will help prepare you to deploy reasonable controls to safeguard your IT
assets, without undermining your company’s productivity.
In short, I’ve written this book to raise your awareness about the serious
threat posed by social engineering, and to help you make sure that your
company and its employees are less likely to be exploited in this way.
Or perhaps I should say, far less likely to be exploited ever again.
The Art Of The Attacker
When Innocuous Information Isn’t
What do most people think is the real threat from social engineers? What
should you do to be on your guard?
If the goal is to capture some highly valuable prize–say, a vital
component of the company’s intellectual capital – then perhaps what’s
needed is, figuratively, just a stronger vault and more heavily armed
But in reality penetrating a company’s security often starts with the bad
guy obtaining some piece of information or some document that seems so
innocent, so everyday and unimportant, that most people in the
organization wouldn’t see any reason why the item should be protected
HIDDEN VALUE OF INFORMATION
Much of the seemingly innocuous information in a company’s possession
by a social engineering attacker because it can play a vital role in his
effort to dress himself in a cloak of believability.
Throughout these pages, I’m going to show you how social engineers do
what they do by letting you «witness» the attacks for yourself–sometimes
presenting the action from the viewpoint of the people being victimized,
allowing you to put yourself in their shoes and gauge how you yourself
(or maybe one of your employees or co-workers) might have responded.
In many cases you’ll also experience the same events from the perspective
of the social engineer.
The first story looks at a vulnerability in the financial industry.
For a long time, the British put up with a very stuffy banking system. As
an ordinary, upstanding citizen, you couldn’t walk in off the street and
open a bank account. No, the bank wouldn’t consider accepting you as a
customer unless some person already well established as a customer
provided you with a letter of recommendation.
Quite a difference, of course, in the seemingly egalitarian banking
world of today. And our modern ease of doing business is nowhere more
in evidence than in friendly, democratic America, where almost anyone
can walk into a bank and easily open a checking account, right? Well, not
exactly. The truth is that banks understandably have a natural reluctance
to open. an account for somebody who just might have a history of
writing bad checks–that would be about as welcome as a rap sheet of
bank robbery or embezzlement charges. So it’s standard practice at many
banks to get a quick thumbs-up or thumbs-down on a prospective new
One of the major companies that banks contract with for this information
is an outfit we’ll call CreditChex. They provide a valuable service to their
clients, but like many companies, can also unknowingly provide a handy
service to knowing social engineers.
The First Call: Kim Andrews
«National Bank, this is Kim. Did you want to open an account today?»
«Hi, Kim. I have a question for you. Do you guys use CreditChex?»
«When you phone in to CreditChex, what do you call the number you give
them–is it a ‹Merchant ID’?»
A pause; she was weighing the question, wondering what this was about
and whether she should answer.
The caller quickly continued without missing a beat:
«Because, Kim, I’m working on a book. It deals with private
«Yes,» she said, answering the question with new confidence, pleased to
be helping a writer.
«So it’s called a Merchant ID, right?»
«Okay, great. Because I wanted to male sure I had the lingo right. For the
book. Thanks for your help. Good-bye, Kim.»
The Second Call: Chris Talbert
«National Bank, New Accounts, this is Chris.»
«Hi, Chris. This is Alex,» the caller said. «I’m a customer service rep
with CreditChex. We’re doing a survey to improve our services. Can you
spare me a couple of minutes?»
She was glad to, and the caller went on:
«Okay – what are the hours your branch is open for business?» She
answered, and continued answering his string of questions.
«How many employees at your branch use our service?»
«How often do you call us with an inquiry?»
«Which of our 800-numbers have we assigned you for calling us?»
«Have our representatives always been courteous?»
«How’s our response time?»
«How long have you been with the bank?»
«What Merchant ID are you currently using?»
«Have you ever found any inaccuracies with the information we’ve
«If you had any suggestions for improving our service, what would they
«Would you be willing to fill out periodic questionnaires if we send them
to your branch?»
She agreed, they chatted a bit, the caller rang off, and Chris went back to
The Third Call: Henry McKinsey
«CreditChex, this is Henry McKinsey, how can I help you?»
The caller said he was from National Bank. He gave the proper Merchant
ID and then gave the name and social security number of the person he
was looking for information on. Henry asked for the birth date, and the
caller gave that, too.
After a few moments, Henry read the listing from his computer screen.
«Wells Fargo reported NSF in 1998, one time, amount of $2,066.» NSF .
non sufficient funds – is the familiar banking lingo for checks that have
been written when there isn’t enough money in the account to cover them.
«Any activities since then?»
«Have there been any other inquiries?»
«Let’s see. Okay, two of them, both last month. Third United Credit Union
of Chicago.» He stumbled over the next name, Schenectady Mutual
Investments, and had to spell it. «That’s in New York State,» he added.
Private Investigator at Work
All three of those calls were made by the same person: a private
investigator we’ll call Oscar Grace. Grace had a new client, one of his
first. A cop until a few months before, he found that some of this new
work came naturally, but some offered a challenge to his resources and
inventiveness. This one came down firmly in the challenge category.
The hardboiled private eyes of fiction – the Sam Spades and the Philip
Marlowes – spend long night time hours sitting in cars waiting to catch a
cheating spouse. Real-life PIs do the same. They also do a less written
about, but no less important kind of snooping for warring spouses, a
method that leans more heavily on social engineering skills than on
fighting off the boredom of night time vigils.
Grace’s new client was a lady who looked as if she had a pretty
comfortable budget for clothes and jewelry. She walked into his office
one day and took a seat in the leather chair, the only one that didn’t have
papers piled on it. She settled her large Gucci handbag on his desk with
the logo turned to face him and announced she was planning to tell her
husband that she wanted a divorce, but admitted to «just a very little
It seemed her hubby was one step ahead. He had already pulled the cash
out of their savings account and an even larger sum from their brokerage
account. She wanted to know where their assets had been squirreled away,
and her divorce lawyer wasn’t any help at all. Grace surmised the lawyer
was one of those uptown, high-rise counselors who wouldn’t get his hands
dirty on something messy like where did the money go.
Could Grace help?
He assured her it would be a breeze, quoted a fee, expenses billed at cost,
and collected a check for the first payment.
Then he faced his problem. What do you do if you’ve never handled a
piece of work like this before and don’t quite know how to go about
tracking down a money trail? You move forward by baby steps. Here,
accord- mg to our source, is Grace’s story.
I knew about CreditChex and how banks used the outfit – my ex-wife used
to work at a bank. But I didn’t know the lingo and procedures, and trying
to ask my ex- would be a waste of time.
Step one: Get the terminology straight and figure out how to make the
request so it sounds like I know what I’m talking about. At the bank I
called, the first young lady, Kim, was suspicious when I asked about how
they identify themselves when they phone CreditChex. She hesitated; she
didn’t know whether to tell me. Was I put off by that? Not a bit. In fact,
the hesitation gave me an important clue, a sign that I had to supply a
reason she’d find believable. When I worked the con on her about doing
research for a book, it relieved her suspicions. You say you’re an author or
a movie writer, and everybody opens up.
She had other knowledge that would have helped – things like what
reformation CreditChex requires to identify the person you’re calling
about, what information you can ask for, and the big one, what was Kim’s
bank Merchant ID number. I was ready to ask those questions, but her
hesitation sent up the red flag. She bought the book research story, but she
already had a few niggling suspicions. If she’d been more willing right
way, I would have asked her to reveal more details about their procedures.
MARK: The victim of a con.
BURN THE SOURCE: An attacker is said to have burned the source
when he allows a victim to recognize that an attack has taken place. Once
the victim becomes aware and notifies other employees or management of
the attempt, it becomes extremely difficult to exploit the same source in
You have to go on gut instinct, listen closely to what the mark is saying
and how she’s saying it. This lady sounded smart enough for alarm bells
to start going off if I asked too many unusual questions. And even though
she didn’t know who I was or what number I was calling from, still in this
business you never want anybody putting out the word to be on the look
out for someone calling to get information about the business. That.s
because you don’t want to burn the source – you may want to call same
office back another time.
I’m always on the watch for little signs that give me a read on how
cooperative a person is, on a scale that runs from «You sound like a nice
person and I believe everything you’re saying» to «Call the cops, alert the
National Guard, this guy’s up to no good.»
I read Kim as a little bit on edge, so I just called somebody at a different
branch. On my second call with Chris, the survey trick played like a
charm. The tactic here is to slip the important questions in among
inconsequential ones that are used to create a sense of believability.
Before I dropped the question about the Merchant ID number with
CreditChex, I ran a little last-minute test by asking her a personal question
about how long she’d been with the bank.
A personal question is like a land mine – some people step right over it
and never notice; for other people, it blows up and sends them scurrying
for safety. So if I ask a personal question and she answers the question
and the tone of her voice doesn’t change, that means she probably isn’t
skeptical about the nature of the request. I can safely ask the sought after
question without arousing her suspicions, and she’ll probably give me the
answer I’m looking for.
One more thing a good PI knows: Never end the conversation after getting
the key information. Another two or three questions, a little chat, and then
it’s okay to say good-bye. Later, if the victim remembers anything about
what you asked, it will probably be the last couple of questions. The rest
will usually be forgotten.
So Chris gave me their Merchant ID number, and the phone number they
call to make requests. I would have been happier if I had gotten to ask
some questions about how much information you can get from
CreditChex. But it was better not to push my luck.
It was like having a blank check on CreditChex. I could now call and get
information whenever I wanted. I didn’t even have to pay for the service.
As it turned out, the CreditChex rep was happy to share exactly the
information I wanted: two places my client’s husband had recently applied
to open an account. So where were the assets his soon-to-be ex-wife was
looking for? Where else but at the banking institutions the guy at
Analyzing the Con
This entire ruse was based on one of the fundamental tactics of social
engineering: gaining access to information that a company employee
treats as innocuous, when it isn’t.
The first bank clerk confirmed the terminology to describe the identifying
number used when calling CreditChex: the Merchant ID. The second
provided the phone number for calling CreditChex, and the most vital
piece of information, the bank’s Merchant ID number. All this information
appeared to the clerk to be innocuous. After all, the bank clerk thought
she was talking to someone from CreditChex -so what could be the harm
in disclosing the number?
All of this laid the groundwork for the third call. Grace had everything he
needed to phone CreditChex, pass himself off as a rep from one of their
customer banks, National, and simply ask for the information he was
With as much skill at stealing information as a good swindler has at
stealing your money, Grace had well-honed talents for reading people. He
knew the common tactic of burying the key questions among innocent
ones. He knew a personal question would test the second clerk’s
willingness to cooperate, before innocently asking for the Merchant ID
The first clerk’s error in confirming the terminology for the CreditChex ID
number would be almost impossible to protect against. The information is
so widely known within the banking industry that it appears to be
unimportant – the very model of the innocuous. But the second clerk,
Chris, should not have been so willing to answer questions without
positively verifying that the caller was really who he claimed to be. She
should, at the very least, have taken his name and number and called
back; that way, if any questions arose later, she may have kept a record of
what phone number the person had used. In this case, making a call like
that would have made it much more difficult for the attacker to
masquerade as a representative from CreditChex.
A Merchant ID in this situation is analogous to a password. If bank
personnel treated it like an ATM PIN, they might appreciate the sensitive
nature of the information. Is there an internal code or number in your
organization that people aren’t treating with enough care?
Better still would have been a call to CreditChex using a nun bank already
had on record – not a number provided by the caller . to verify that the
person really worked there, and that the company was really doing a
customer survey. Given the practicalities of the real world and the time
pressures that most people work under today, though, this kind of
verification phone call is a lot to expect, except when an employee is
suspicious that some kind of attack is being made.
THE ENGINEER TRAP
It is widely known that head-hunter firms use social engineering to recruit
corporate talent. Here’s an example of how it can happen.
In the late 1990s, a not very ethical employment agency signed a new
client, a company looking for electrical engineers with experience in the
telephone industry. The honcho on the project was a lady endowed with a
throaty voice and sexy manner that she had learned to use to develop
initial trust and rapport over the phone.
The lady decided to stage a raid on a cellular phone service provider to
see if she could locate some engineers who might be tempted to walk
across the street to a competitor. She couldn’t exactly call the switch board
and say, «Let me talk to anybody with five years of engineering
experience.» Instead, for reasons that will become clear in a moment, she
began the talent assault by seeking a piece of information that appeared to
have no sensitivity at all, information that company people give out to
almost anybody who asks.
The First Call: The receptionist
The attacker, using the name Didi Sands, placed a call to the corporate
offices of the cellular phone service. In part, the conversation went like
Receptionist: Good afternoon. This is Marie, how may I help you?
Didi: Can you connect me to the Transportation Department?
R: I’m not sure if we have one, I’ll look in my directory. Who’s calling?
D: It’s Didi.
R: Are you in the building, or… ?
D: No, I’m outside the building.
R: Didi who?
D: Didi Sands. I had the extension for Transportation, but I forgot what
R: One moment.
To allay suspicions, at this point Didi asked a casual, just making
conversation question designed to establish that she was on the «inside,»
familiar with company locations.
D: What building are you in – Lakeview or Main Place?
R: Main Place. (pause) It’s 805 555 6469.
To provide herself with a backup in case the call to Transportation didn’t
provide what she was looking for, Didi said she also wanted to talk to
Real Estate. The receptionist gave her that number, as well. When Didi
asked to be connected to the Transportation number, the receptionist tried,
but the line was busy.
At that point Didi asked for a third phone number, for Accounts
Receivable, located at a corporate facility in Austin, Texas. The
receptionist asked her to wait a moment, and went off the line. Reporting
to Security that she had a suspicious phone call and thought there was
something fishy going on? Not at all, and Didi didn’t have the least bit of
concern. She was being a bit of a nuisance, but to the receptionist it was
all part of a typical workday. After about a minute, the receptionist came
back on the line, looked up the Accounts Receivable number, tried it, and
put Didi through.
The Second Call: Peggy
The next conversation went like this:
Peggy: Accounts Receivable, Peggy.
Didi: Hi, Peggy. This is Didi, in Thousand Oaks.
P: Hi, Didi.
D: How ya doing?
Didi then used a familiar term in the corporate world that describes the
charge code for assigning expenses against the budget of a specific
organization or workgroup:
D: Excellent. I have a question for you. How do I find out the cost center
for a particular department?
P: You’d have to get a hold of the budget analyst for the department.
D: Do you know who’d be the budget analyst
for Thousand Oaks – headquarters? I’m trying to
fill out a form and I don’t know the proper cost
P: I just know when y’all need a cost center number, you call your
D: Do you have a cost center for your department there in Texas?
P: We have our own cost center but they don’t give us a complete list of
D: How many digits is the cost center? FOr example, what’s your cost
P: Well, like, are you with 9WC or with SAT?
Didi had no idea what departments or groups these referred to, but it
didn’t matter. She answered:
P: Then it’s usually four digits. Who did you say you were with?
D: Headquarters–Thousand Oaks.
P: Well, here’s one for Thousand Oaks. It’s 1A5N, that’s N like in
By just hanging out long enough with somebody willing to be helpful,
Didi had the cost center number she needed – one of those pieces of
information that no one thinks to protect because it seems like something
that couldn’t be of any value to an outsider.
The Third Call: A Helpful Wrong Number
Didi’s next step would be to parlay the cost center number into something
of real value by using it as a poker chip.
She began by calling the Real Estate department, pretending she had
reached a wrong number. Starting with a «Sorry to bother you, but …. «
she claimed she was an employee who had lost her company directory,
and asked who you were supposed to call to get a new copy. The man said
the print copy was out of date because it was available on the company
Didi said she preferred using a hard copy, and the man told her to call
Publications, and then, without being asked – maybe just to keep the sexysounding
lady on the phone a little longer – helpfully looked up the
number and gave it to her.
The Fourth Call: Bart in Publications
In Publications, she spoke with a man named Bart. Didi said she was from
Thousand Oaks, and they had a new consultant who needed a copy of the
company directory. She told him a print copy would work better for the
consultant, even if it was somewhat out of date. Bart told her she’d have to
fill out a requisition form and send the form over to him.
Didi said she was out of forms and it was a rush, and could Bart be a
sweetheart and fill out the form for her? He agreed with a little too much
enthusiasm, and Didi gave him the details. For the address of the fictional
contractor, she drawled the number of what social engineers call a mail
drop, in this case a Mail Boxes Etc.-type of commercial business where
her company rented boxes for situations just like this.
The earlier spadework now came in handy: There would be a charge for
the cost and shipping of the directory. Fine – Didi gave the cost center for
«IA5N, that’s N like in Nancy.»
A few days later, when the corporate directory arrived, Didi found it was
an even bigger payoff than she had expected: It not only listed the names
and phone numbers, but also showed who worked for whom – the
corporate structure of the whole organization.
The lady of the husky voice was ready to start making her head-hunter,
people-raiding phone calls. She had conned the information she needed to
launch her raid using the gift of gab honed to a high polish by every
skilled social engineer. Now she was ready for the payoff.
MAIL DROP: The social engineer.s term for a rental mailbox, typically
rented under an assumed name, which is used to deliver documents or
packages the victim has been duped into sending
Just like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, each piece of information may be
irrelevant by itself. However, when the pieces are put together, a clear
picture emerges. In this I case, the picture the social engineer saw was the
entire internal structure of the company .
Analyzing the Con
In this social engineering attack, Didi started by getting phone numbers
for three departments in the target company. This was easy, because the
numbers she was asking for were no secret, especially to employees. A
social engineer learns to sound like an insider, and Didi was skilled at this
game. One of the phone numbers led her to a cost center number, which
she then used to obtain a copy of the firm’s employee directory.
The main tools she needed: sounding friendly, using some corporate
lingo, and, with the last victim, throwing in a little verbal eyelash-batting.
And one more tool, an essential element not easily acquired – the
manipulative skills of the social engineer, refined through extensive
practice and the unwritten lessons of bygone generations of confidence
MORE «WORTHLESS» INFO
Besides a cost center number and internal phone extensions, what other
seemingly useless information can be extremely valuable to your enemy?.
Peter Abel.s Phone Call
«Hi,» the voice at the other end of the line says. «This is Tom at Parkhurst
Travel. Your tickets to San Francisco are ready. Do you want us to deliver
them, or do you want to pick them up?»
«San Francisco?» Peter says. «I’m not going to San Francisco.» «Is this
«Yes, but I don’t have any trips coming up.»
«Well,» the caller says with a friendly laugh, «you sure you don’t want to
go to San Francisco?»
«If you think you can talk my boss into it…» Peter says, playing along
with the friendly conversation.
«Sounds like a mix-up,» the caller says. «On our system, we book travel
arrangements under the employee number. Maybe somebody used the
wrong number. What’s your employee number?»
Peter obligingly recites his number. And why not? It goes on just about
every personnel form he fills out, lots of people in the company have
access to it – human resources, payroll, and, obviously, the outside travel
agency. No one treats an employee number like some sort of secret. What
difference could it make?
The answer isn’t hard to figure out. Two or three pieces of information
might be all it takes to mount an effective impersonation – the social
engineer cloaking himself in someone else’s identity. Get hold of an
employee’s name, his phone number, his employee number–and maybe,
for good measure, his manager’s name and phone number–and a halfwaycompetent
social engineer is equipped with most of what he’s likely to
need to sound authentic to the next target he calls.
If someone who said he was from another department in your company
had called yesterday, given a plausible reason, and asked for your
employee number, would you have had any reluctance in giving it to him?
And by the way, what is your social security number?
The moral of the story is, don’t give out any personal or internal company
information or identifiers to anyone, unless his or her voice is
recognizable and the requestor has a need to know.
PREVENTING THE CON
Your company has a responsibility to make employees aware of how a
serious mistake can occur from mishandling non public information. A
well thought-out information security policy, combined with proper
education and training, will dramatically increase employee awareness
about the proper handling of corporate business information. A data
classification policy will help you to implement proper controls with
respect to disclosing information. Without a data classification policy, all
internal information must be considered confidential, unless otherwise
Take these steps to protect your company from the release of seemingly
The Information Security Department needs to conduct awareness training
detailing the methods used by social engineers. One method, as described
above, is to obtain seemingly non sensitive information and use it as a
poker chip to gain short-term trust. Each and every employee needs to be
aware that when a caller has knowledge about company procedures, lingo,
and internal identifiers it does not in any way, shape, or form authenticate
the requestor or authorize him or her as having a need to know. A caller
could be a former employee or
contractor with the requisite insider information. Accordingly, each
corporation has a responsibility to determine the appropriate
authentication method to be used when employees interact with people
they don’t recognize in person or over the telephone.
The person or persons with the role and responsibility of drafting a data
classification policy should examine the types of details that may be used
to gain access for legitimate employees that seem innocuous, but could
lead to information that is, sensitive. Though you’d never give out the
access codes for your ATM card, would you tell somebody what server
you use to develop company software products? Could that information
be used by a person pretending to be somebody who has legitimate access
to the corporate network?
Sometimes just knowing inside terminology can make the social engineer
appear authoritative and knowledgeable. The attacker often relies on this
common misconception to dupe his or her victims into compliance. For
example, a Merchant ID is an identifier that people in the New Accounts
department of a bank casually use every day. But such an identifier
exactly the same as a password. If each and every employee understands
the nature of this identifier – that it is used to positively authenticate a
requestor–they might treat it with more respect.
As the old adage goes – even real paranoids probably have enemies. We
must assume that every business has its enemies, too – attackers that target
the network infrastructure to compromise business secrets. Don’t end up
being a statistic on computer crime – it’s high time to shore up the
necessary defenses by implementing proper controls through wellthought-
out security policies and procedures.
No companies – well, very few, at least – give out the direct dial phone
numbers of their CEO or board chairman. Most companies, though, have
no concern about giving out phone numbers to most departments and
workgroups in the, organization – especially to someone who is, or
appears to be, an employee. A possible countermeasure: Implement a
that prohibits giving internal phone numbers of employees, contractors,
consultants, and temps to outsiders. More importantly, develop a step-bystep
procedure to positively identify whether a caller asking for phone
numbers is really an employee.
Accounting codes for workgroups and departments, as well as copies of
the corporate directory (whether hard copy, data file, or electronic phone
book on the intranet) are frequent targets of social engineers. Every
company needs a written, well-publicized policy on disclosure of this type
of information. The safeguards should include maintaining an audit log
that records instances when sensitive information is disclosed to people
outside of the company.
Information such as an employee number, by itself, should not be used as
any sort of authentication. Every employee must be trained to verify not
just the identity of a requestor, but also the requestor’s need to know.
In your security training, consider teaching employees this approach:
Whenever asked a question or asked for a favor by a stranger, learn first
to politely decline until the request can be verified. Then – before giving
in to the natural desire to be Mr. or Ms. Helpful – follow company policies
and procedures with respect to verification and disclosure of non public
information. This style may go against our natural tendency to help
others, but a little healthy paranoia may be necessary to avoid being the
social engineer’s next dupe.
As the stories in this chapter have shown, seemingly innocuous
information can be the key to your company’s most prized secrets