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Information Security, Lies and Social Engineering

Social engineering is the act of manipulating people into performing certain actions or divulging confidential information. While similar to a confidence trick or simple fraud, the term typically applies to trickery or deception for the purpose of information gathering, fraud, or computer system access; in most cases the attacker never comes face-to-face with the victim.

Call them con men, grifters, scammers, or thieves. Or simply call them liars. Lying is what they do best. They stare you in the eyes and lie through their teeth. They do it casually and with such conviction that we have no reason not to believe them. Their craft and skill is a remorseless trait called social engineering, which is also known as pre-texting.

Lying is a learned behavior. One day as children we stumble upon a situation, one that we created or were a party to, and we are confronted by someone in authority. Most likely mom, dad, or a teacher. We are asked a question and we respond with what we think they want to hear, as opposed to the truth. We lie. They believe us and we are relieved of the burden of truth's consequences.

We then use this tool throughout life whenever we feel it will outweigh the benefits of honesty. "Sir, did you know you were speeding?" We lie to others, we lie to ourselves, we all lie to a degree. It’s a survival mechanism. But some people are absolute professionals at it and take it way beyond what’s a reasonable lie. Their entire life’s motivation is to get out of bed in the morning and use deception to take what belongs to others. Liars often have a form of anti-social personality disorder. They lack empathy for others' feelings. They aren’t concerned about the consequences of their actions and the potential harm it may do others. Many in prison are said to have this “ailment.”

Laws are created because of man's behaviors, and the fact that man lies. Laws protect man from himself and from others.

Liars are often so good that they end up in a position of authority and trust. They could be heads of state, CEOs of corporations, judges, a significant other, or even a member of the clergy. For the past year, I’ve been corresponding with a minister who was convicted of identity theft and received an 18 month sentence. He’s asking me to testify on his behalf in an appeal.

What compounds the problem is the naïveté of civilized human beings. We are raised to love and respect, to be kind and cordial. We are taught to behave ourselves and tell the truth. And we expect others to act in kind. Trust is the foundation of functioning in a civilized society. Without a degree of trust in everyone and everything, we’d cease to move in a forward direction, always in fear of dire consequences of venturing out. If we didn’t inherently trust, how could we possibly get behind the wheel of a car and drive down a two way street, with nothing but a yellow painted line separating us from a head-on collision and imminent death?

I often hear people say, “I don’t trust anyone,” or advise others never to trust anyone else. And they are liars, too. Because they do trust.

When someone lies in our presence, we can sometimes smell a skunk. One on one contact provides us with numerous telltale signals of truth and lies. Human communication relies not just on words, but on body language and tone of voice. Believe it or not, we all exude energy towards others. Sometimes that energy is positive or negative. A negative energy coupled with certain neuro-linguistics can send a ping to our bellies and prompt the hair on the back of our necks to raise, signaling a primordial instinct to beware of a cheat in our presence.

Technology has made it easier than ever for liars to perfect their craft. We see thousands of scams and ruses pulled every day. The key is to understand the lures, motivations, and tactics of the con. When you can sense a snake-oil salesman and “see them from a mile away,” you are much safer and more secure than those who assume it can't happen to them.

Trust is a fundamental and necessary part of life. But a degree of cynicism can go a long way. Because liars lie, invest in identity theft protection and make sure your PC has Internet security software.

Identity theft speaker Robert Siciliano discusses identity theft with a real conman.


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