Calling All Social Engineers

A friend of GreyCastle Security stopped by this morning to discuss social engineering and how it can be used to improve audit programs.

This friend is an Auditor for a large state-run entity, and a wannabe pentester (tough to blame him).

Now I know what you’re thinking – why is an Auditor interested in social engineering?

I’m glad you asked.

First, we’ve seen many audits totally miss the mark by not including the people aspects of information security. In their defense, audits are typically based on compliance regulations or organizational policies, which miss the same mark.

But if you were an Auditor, where would you focus?

On the countless firewalls out there that are summarily bypassed by attackers, both expert and newb? Or the hordes of susceptible bank tellers, healthcare executives, students, IT administrators and other personnel targeted each and every day by cybercriminals all over the globe.

The answer is clear. Auditors need to be social engineers.

But that’s not as easy as it sounds. In our conversation today we talked about what makes a good social engineer. And the reality is, the best social engineers are born, not made.

That being said, social engineering skills can be taught and improved, even if your name doesn’t end in “Mitnick”.

So what are these skills?

The ability to improvise is critical. So is the ability to collect and leverage information about assets (people) to your advantage. And last but not least, the ability to maintain cool under pressure, especially when being challenged.

A good social engineer is generally good at getting out of tickets, into the VIP and around the rules. If you panic when trying to get away with a duplicate grocery store coupon, it might not be for you.

So if you’re comfortable impersonating someone you’ve never met, that may not even exist, to gain confidential intel or compromise an asset for the betterment of the greater good – all while smiling – we may be looking for you.

After all, the human side of information security is quite possibly the most important, and most misunderstood, of all.

Next month is National Cyber Security Awareness Month. Stay tuned for a whole month of interesting thoughts, trends and tips for securing human beings.


About regharnish

CEO of GreyCastle Security

2 responses to “Calling All Social Engineers”

  1. Corey Harrell says :

    Don’t get me wrong, using social engineering tactics on security audits has value. However, I don’t think that “auditors need to be social engineers”. Social engineering only identifies the weaknesses in humans so making auditors into social engineers will only make them focus solely on this vulnerability. Instead security audits should resemble vulnerability assessments against an organization to identify all vulnerabilities throughout the security management process whether if it is at the management or technical level. Afterwards, the auditors need to leverage any means available to take advantage of the vulnerabilities regardless if the technique is social engineering or any other security testing technique. Security audits need to account for all vulnerabilities besides the big one which are the humans.


    • regharnish says :

      You’re absolutely right. In fact, most of the audit plans that I’ve been subject to have been narrowly focused on a specific control area or worse. We believe that auditors – and the boards that they typically report to – need to start thinking about how to add human vulnerabilities to the equation.


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