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I may meander but I'm 'exploring', not lost

Nov 20, 2017

NBlog November 20 - an A to Z catalog of social engineering


A productive couple of days' graft has seen what was envisaged to be a fairly short and high-level general staff awareness briefing on social engineering morph gradually into an A-to-Z list of scams, con-tricks and frauds.

It has grown to about 9 pages in the process. That may sound like a tome, over-the-top for awareness purposes ... and maybe it is, but the scams are described in an informal style in just a few lines each, making it readable and easily digestible. The A-to-Z format leads the reader naturally through a logical sequence, perhaps skim-reading in places and hopefully stopping to think in others.

For slow/struggling readers, there are visual cues and images to catch their eyes but let's be honest: this briefing is not for them. They would benefit more from seminars, case studies, chatting with their colleagues and getting involved in other interactive activities (which we also support through our other awareness content). The NoticeBored mind maps and posters, for instance, express things visually with few words.

Taking a step back from the A-Z list, the sheer variety and creativity of scams is fascinating, and I'm not just saying that because I wrote it! That's a key security awareness lesson in itself. Social engineering is hard to pin down to a few simple characteristics, in a way that workers can be expected to recognize easily. Some social engineering methods, such as ordinary phishing, are readily explained and fairly obvious but even then there are more obscure variants (such as whaling and spear phishing) that take the technique and threat level up a gear. 

It's not feasible for an awareness program to explain all forms of social engineering in depth, literally impossible in fact. It's something that an intensive work or college course might attempt, perhaps, for fraud specialists who will be fully immersed in the topic, but that's fraud training, not security awareness. We can't bank on workers taking time out from their day-jobs to sit in a room, paying full attention to their lecturers and scribbling notes for hour after hour. There probably aren't 'lecturers' in practice: most of this stuff is delivered online today, pushed out impersonally through the corporate intranet and learning management systems.

Our aim is to grab workers' attention, fleetingly, impart useful information and guidance, and motivate them to take even more care in future: yes, that's a benign form of social engineering. Maybe we should include it in the A-to-Z?

[Email me for a FREE copy of this briefing]