Perimeter

10/2/2014
12:07 AM
Marilyn Cohodas
Marilyn Cohodas
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Poll: Employees Clueless About Social Engineering

Not surprisingly, our latest poll confirms that threats stemming from criminals hacking humans are all too frequently ignored.

When it comes to social engineering, Pogo, the central character of a long-running American comic strip, said it best. "We have met the enemy and he is us."

It was 1971 when Walt Kelly penned the cartoon with the celebrated quote; Pogo, who lived in a swamp, was talking about Earth Day. Today, the same sentiment can be applied to employees who are blissfully ignorant of the lengths criminals will take to gain their confidence in order to breach an organization’s security and steal proprietary data.

But don’t take my word for it. According to a recent Dark Reading flash poll, more than half of 633 security professionals who responded said that the most dangerous social engineering threat to their organizations was due to a lack of employee awareness.

Email phishing scams were specifically identified as serious attacks by 22% of respondents, followed by criminals posing on site as contractors or employees (12%). “Vishing,” a relatively new but growing scheme in which people are tricked into revealing seemingly innocuous information over the phone, was reported by only 5% of poll takers.

The Dark Reading community poll data is in direct contrast to today’s increasingly sophisticated methods of socially-engineered hacking. To combat those threats, says Chief Human Hacker Chris Hadnagy, a social engineering expert and author from Social-Engineer.com, security professionals need to redouble employee awareness efforts around new trends in phishing and multi-stage attacks.

“Phishing emails are much more complicated today ... and [phishers] are using spell check!” Hadnagy said during a recent Dark Reading Radio show, noting that “serious phishers” are hiring proofreaders as a customer-service option to delivers “branded, well-written phishing emails that are really working.”

In multi-stage attacks, he says criminals use both phishing and vishing to gain the trust of individuals who give attackers a foothold into corporate networks and systems. “Fifteen seconds after they send you a phishing email, they will call on the phone and ask you to click on the link that causes systems to crash.”

Hadnagy, whose company hosts the annual Social Engineering Capture the Flag contest at DEF CON, said a blend of education and technology is the best solution to the problem. “Yes, have your AV's, IDS, IPS, packet inspection, etc. all set up. But don't rely on tech to save you from the human element. Mix both education and tech to get the biggest benefit.”

As for what kind of education, he said what works best is when training is combined with a real-world example. Employees, for instance, receive a test phishing email, and those who fail the test and click on a link are immediately dispatched to a page with information about the dangers of phishing. The quick lesson is later followed up with more in-depth training.

For more details, check out the How to Hack a Human radio show interview and chat with Chris Hadnagy and Dark Reading Executive Editor Kelly Jackson Higgins.

Marilyn has been covering technology for business, government, and consumer audiences for over 20 years. Prior to joining UBM, Marilyn worked for nine years as editorial director at TechTarget Inc., where she launched six Websites for IT managers and administrators supporting ... View Full Bio
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aws0513
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aws0513,
User Rank: Ninja
10/7/2014 | 3:08:43 PM
Re: I would curious on the awareness aspect.
Certainly, there are some very convincing social engineering activities out there.
But being hacked when conducting good security practices is far different than not practicing good security practices at all...  especially if awareness has been established.
I constantly see many users who just do not feel that any effort is necessary or worthy.  Some are just in denial, others play the blame game, others are defeatists, yet others are resistant to anything that resembles a control no matter the intent.
Marilyn Cohodas
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Marilyn Cohodas,
User Rank: Strategist
10/7/2014 | 2:54:15 PM
Re: I would curious on the awareness aspect.
I think you are on to something @aws0513. And its not just the typical user who thinks it can't happen to him or her. As Chris Hadnagy pointed out in the Dark Reading radio show (How to Hack a Human),  the garden variety phishing emails are getting so slick these days that even a seasoned security pro could fall victim, especially considering the heavy volume of emails we all get every every hour of every day.
aws0513
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aws0513,
User Rank: Ninja
10/7/2014 | 2:45:39 PM
I would curious on the awareness aspect.
IMHO, it isn't that there aren't employee training programs.  Every large organization I have worked with had an IA awareness program of some kind to include annual refesher training.

The bigger problem in my opinion is the "that happens to other people" factor.  Many users still consider security as some form of "big brother" control that is nothing more than and expression of FUD.
More often than not, the incidents I have to remediate are caused by people who took all the training, but felt that they were immune to attacks for various reasons to include people who believe the following statements:
  • "I'm smarter than most users.  I know what is safe and what is not."
  • "What do you mean I should not be shopping while I am at work?"
  • "Security is your problem, not mine."
  • "Your security systems allowed me to go to the site, so this is all your fault."
  • "I think your AV system sucks!"

I'm sure other people can come up with classic responses that represent similar user apathy that I encounter regularly.
SecOpsSpecialist
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SecOpsSpecialist,
User Rank: Moderator
10/3/2014 | 3:41:39 PM
Re: Employees Clueless About Social Engineering
@Gonz - So I have a few things about your response that as a Security Awareness Trainer, I see problems with.

 1. It's not really called news anymore, it's media. These "news" stations are not reporting on news, but they are creating sensational stories that people enjoy watching. The last time any station like Fox, NBC, CNBC, or MSN had anything news worthy was before Clinton was in office. Now, it's journalists turned sensationalists and it is not really news. Prime example, the Ebola issue. The "media" is saying it's airborne, but science has proved otherwise. What's the result? People freaking out because they are misinformed.

2. You say that "Any security awareness training should inform users of these new vectors and present ways of changing their behavior" that's the biggest problem right there. Inform them yes, but assuming it will change their behavior? No. Many organizations go into training thinking that by providing training they can change the behavior of the end user. It doesn't work that way. No amount of training is going to change a person's behavior. What fixes behavior is punishment and reprimands. Threaten to, or fire someone who isn't following Security policy? That gets the word out and people then will start to comply. Fear is a bigger motivator than anything. If people suspect their job and their livelihood is on the line if they don't follow Security policy and learn from the Security Awareness Training, they are going to be more likely to follow the policies and be more vigilant in their surfing.

3. You say that relevant and effective Security awareness training is what the organization needs. But what does that mean exactly? If the training is blanket, like most Security programs are, that's not relevant, just simply meeting standards to meet compliance. To be "effective" as you put it, the training must be targeted to the group. It cannot be simply "oh well here's the HIPAA compliance, follow it" or "oh here's the PCI compliance stuff, follow it." People have the innate "what's in it for me?" or "why does this apply to me?" If a trainer can combine that with information as a delivery mechanism, it will stick with a person much longer than if it were just a simple blanket solution.

 

@Marilyn - I think this is a fantastic article and I agree that lack of employee awareness is a big contributing factor. But, at the same time, even if an employee is informed, it is really their choice if they want to follow Security policy or not and keep the organization safe.
GonzSTL
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GonzSTL,
User Rank: Ninja
10/2/2014 | 6:11:21 PM
Employees Clueless About Social Engineering
This comes as no surprise, although I balk at using the word "clueless". Breaches are becoming more common these days and the news coverage is really wide. Since many of these breaches are due to social engineering, people do have a general idea about the subject. The important thing is that social engineering has evolved quite a bit over the years to become more sophisticated. Add to that the popularity of social media, and all of a sudden there is a plethora of new threat vectors that the bad guys can exploit. Any security awareness training should inform users of these new vectors and present ways of changing their behavior to adopt more secure computing practices in light of the new vectors. One thing is certain - the weakest link in the information security chain is the human being, and the best way to reinforce that weakness is through relevant and effective awareness training. You can throw as many technical controls at an infrastructure, but if the weakest link is exploited successfully, then the controls may be rendered ineffective.
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