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The field of information security is a fast growing discipline. Even though the effectiveness of security measures to protect sensitive information is increasing, people remain susceptible to manipulation and the human element is thus a weak link. A social engineering attack targets this weakness by using various manipulation techniques in order to elicit sensitive information. The field of social engineering is still in its infancy stages with regards to formal definitions and attack frameworks. This paper proposes a social engineering attack framework based on Kevin Mitnick's social engineering attack cycle. The attack framework addresses shortcomings of Mitnick's social engineering attack cycle and focuses on every step of the social engineering attack from determining the goal of an attack up to the success conclusion of the attack. The authors use a previously proposed social engineering attack ontological model which provides a formal definition for a social engineering attack. The ontological model contains all the components of a social engineering attack and the social engineering attack framework presented in this paper is able to represent temporal data such as flow and time. Furthermore, this paper demonstrates how historical social engineering attacks can be mapped to the social engineering attack framework. By combining the ontological model and the attack framework one is able to generate social engineering attack scenarios and to map historical social engineering attacks to a standardised format. Scenario generation and analysis of previous attacks are useful for the development of awareness, training purposes and the development of counter measures against social engineering attacks.
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Social Engineering Attack Framework
Francois Mouton, Mercia M. Malan, Louise Leenenand H.S. Venter
Defence Peace Safety & Security, Council for Industrial and Scientific Research
Pretoria, South Africa
E-mail: moutonf@gmail.com, lleenen@csir.co.za
University of Pretoria, Information and Computer Security Architecture
Pretoria, South Africa
E-mail: malan747@gmail.com
University of Pretoria, Department of Computer Science
Pretoria, South Africa
E-mail: hventer@cs.up.ac.za
Abstract—The field of information security is a fast growing
discipline. Even though the effectiveness of security measures
to protect sensitive information is increasing, people remain
susceptible to manipulation and the human element is thus a
weak link. A social engineering attack targets this weakness by
using various manipulation techniques in order to elicit sensitive
information. The field of social engineering is still in its infancy
stages with regards to formal definitions and attack frameworks.
This paper proposes a social engineering attack framework
based on Kevin Mitnick’s social engineering attack cycle. The
attack framework addresses shortcomings of Mitnick’s social
engineering attack cycle and focuses on every step of the social
engineering attack from determining the goal of an attack up
to the successful conclusion of the attack. The authors use a
previously proposed social engineering attack ontological model
which provides a formal definition for a social engineering attack.
The ontological model contains all the components of a social
engineering attack and the social engineering attack framework
presented in this paper is able to represent temporal data
such as flow and time. Furthermore, this paper demonstrates
how historical social engineering attacks can be mapped to
the social engineering attack framework. By combining the
ontological model and the attack framework, one is able to
generate social engineering attack scenarios and to map historical
social engineering attacks to a standardised format. Scenario
generation and analysis of previous attacks are useful for the de-
velopment of awareness, training purposes and the development
of countermeasures against social engineering attacks.
Index Terms—Bidirectional Communication, Indirect Commu-
nication, Mitnick’s Attack Cycle, Ontological Model, Social En-
gineering, Social Engineering Attack, Social Engineering Attack
Framework, Unidirectional Communication.
I. INTRODUCTION
The field of information security is a fast growing disci-
pline. The protection of information is of vital importance to
organisations and governments, and the development of coun-
termeasures against illegal access to information is an area that
receives increasing attention. Organisations and governments
have a vested interest in securing sensitive information and
thus securing the trust of clients and citizens. Technology on its
own is not a sufficient safeguard against information theft; staff
is often the weak link in an information security system. Staff
members can be influenced to divulge sensitive information
which subsequently allow unauthorised individuals to access
protected systems.
The ‘art’ of influencing people to divulge sensitive informa-
tion is known as social engineering and the process of doing
so is known as a social engineering attack. There are various
definitions of social engineering and a number of different
models of a social engineering attack [1]. The authors consid-
ered a number of definitions of social engineering and social
engineering attack taxonomies in a previous paper, Towards an
Ontological Model Defining the Social Engineering Domain
[1], and formulated a standardised, detailed definition. They
also proposed an ontological model for a social engineering
attack. The authors define social engineering as “the science of
using social interaction as a means to persuade an individual
or an organisation to comply with a specific request from an
attacker where either the social interaction, the persuasion or
the request involves a computer-related entity” [1].
The previously proposed ontological model includes compo-
nents of a social engineering attack and divides the attack into
different classes and subclasses. The two classes of a social
engineering attack are: Direct communication and indirect
communication. The direct communication class is further
divided into two subclasses: Bidirectional communication and
unidirectional communication. A social engineering attack is
then further explained to contain the following components:
one Social Engineer; one Target; one or more Compliance
Principles; one or more Techniques; one Medium; and one
Goal [1].
Although the ontological model contains all the components
of a social engineering attack, an ontological model struggles
to depict temporal data, such as flow and time [2]. One
of the main features of an ontology is that it separates the
domain knowledge from the operational knowledge [2]. Due
to this shortcoming, the ontological model is not sufficient
to depict the process and the steps involved in executing
a social engineering attack. The purpose of this paper is
to present a social engineering attack framework which, in
conjunction with the ontological model, investigate the attack
process in detail. The framework refers to the components
in the ontological model, but focuses on the process flow
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starting at the point at which an attacker initially thinks about
gaining sensitive information from some target up to the point
of succeeding in the goal of gaining this information.
The ontological model provides the basic structure of a
social engineering attack whereas the social engineering attack
framework adds both time and flow components. The combi-
nation of the ontological model and the attack framework can
be used to generate social engineering attack scenarios and
to map historical social engineering attacks to a standardised
format. These scenarios are useful to educate individuals
about social engineering and to gauge their awareness of
social engineering. Scenario generation is also useful in the
development of countermeasures against attacks. Having a
standardised formulation of a social engineering attack as well
as the flow and time events, allow researchers to compare
different social engineering attacks.
Section II provides a background on social engineering
attacks and further discusses the authors’ previous work.
Section III discusses the proposed social engineering attack
framework and section IV provides some applications of the
social engineering attack framework. Section V concludes the
paper.
II. DE FIN IN G SOCIAL ENGINEERING
ATTACK S
There are many models and taxonomies concerning social
engineering attacks which are explored and analysed in the
author’s previous paper [1] such as [3], [4], [5], [6], [7].
The most commonly known model is Kevin Mitnick’s social
engineering attack cycle as described in his book, The art
of deception: controlling the human element of security, [8].
Mitnick’s attack model has four phases: research, developing
rapport and trust, exploiting trust and utilising information.
These four phases are not explained in great detail in Mitnick’s
book.
The picture below is a representation of Mitnick’s attack
cycle created by the authors. Figure 1 depicts the four phases
and the flow between each of the phases. Each of these phases
are briefly discussed below as explained in Mitnick’s book.
Fig. 1. Kevin Mitnick’s Social Engineering Attack Cycle
Research is an information gathering process where infor-
mation about the target is retrieved. The attacker should know
as much as possible about the target before starting the attack.
The next phase is the Development of the rapport and
trust with the target. A target is more likely to divulge
requested information to an attacker if he trusts the attacker.
According to Mitnick [8], rapport and trust development can
be done by using insider information, misrepresenting an
identity, citing those known to the victim, showing a need
for assistance, or occupying an authoritative role.
When a target appears to trust an attacker, the attacker
Exploits the trust to elicit information from the target: this
can either take the form of a request for information, a request
for a specified action from the victim or, alternatively, to
manipulate the victim into asking the attacker for help [8].
This phase is where the previously established relationship is
abused to get the initially desired information or action.
Finally, the outcome of the previous phase is Utilised to
reach the goal of the attack or to move on to further steps
which may be required to reach the goal.
A trivial example is when an attacker supposedly needs
to connect to an organisation’s network. As a result of his
research the attacker finds out that a help-desk staff member
knows the password to the organisation’s wireless network.
In addition, the attacker found personal information regarding
the staff member who has been identified as the target.
The attacker initiates a conversation with the target, using
the acquired information to establish trust; in this case the
attacker misrepresents himself as an old school acquaintance
of the target. The attacker subsequently exploits the established
trust by asking permission to use the company’s wireless
network facility to send an e-mail. The help-desk attendant is
willing to supply the required password to the attacker due
to the misrepresentation, and is able to gain access to the
organisation’s network and achieve his objective.
The authors’ ontological model defines that a social en-
gineering attack “employs either direct communication or
indirect communication, and has a social engineer, a target,
a medium, a goal, one or more compliance principles and one
or more techniques” [1]. The attack can be split into more
than one attack phase, each phase handled as a new attack
according to the model. The model is depicted in figure 2.
Fig. 2. An Ontological Model of a Social Engineering attack
Direct communication, where two or more people commu-
nicating directly with each other, is sub-divided into “Bidirec-
tional communication” and “Unidirectional communication”.
Bidirectional communication occurs when both parties partic-
ipate in the conversation. For example, an e-mail is sent from
the attacker to the target and the target replies to the attacker.
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Unidirectional communication occurs when the conversation
is one-way only: from the attacker to the target. For example,
if the attacker sends a message through paper mail without a
return address, the target cannot reply to the message. Phishing
attacks are also a popular type of attack in this category.
Indirect communication is when there is no actual interac-
tion between the target and the attacker; communication occurs
through some third party medium. An example of this type of
communication is when the attacker infects a flash drive and
leaves it somewhere to be found by some target. The target is
curious to find out what is on the flash drive for personal gain
or, motivated by ethical consideration, to attempt to find the
owner of the flash drive. The target inserts the flash drive into
their computer, and the infection on the flash drive is activated.
The ontological model further contains several components
as mentioned in the introduction. The goal can be financial
gain, unauthorised access or service disruption. The medium is
a way of communication such as e-mail, face to face, telephone
etc. The social engineer can be either an individual or a group
of individuals. The target can either be an individual or an
organisation.
Compliance principles refer to the reasons why a target
complies with the attacker’s request, and techniques include
those used to perform social engineering attacks. Examples of
techniques include phishing, pretexting, baiting and quid pro
quo [1]. Examples of compliance principles include:
Friendship or liking: People are more willing to comply
with requests from friends or people they like.
Commitment or consistency: Once committed to some-
thing, people are more willing to comply with requests
consistent with this position.
Scarcity: People are more willing to comply to requests
that are scarce or decreasing in availability.
Reciprocity: People are more willing to comply with a
request if the requester has treated them favourably in
the past.
Social Validation: People are more willing to comply to
a request if it is seen as the socially correct thing to do.
Authority: People comply easily to requests given by
people with more authority than they have.
Once the compliance principles, techniques and medium
have been selected, the attack vector can be set-up and the
social engineer can continue to the actual attacking phase.
The next section introduces the proposed social engineering
attack framework.
III. SOCIAL ENGINEERING ATTACK
FRAMEWORK
In this section the authors propose an extension of Kevin
Mitnick’s original social engineering attack cycle [8]. Mit-
nick’s attack cycle is explained very briefly in his book and
does not contain a lot of detail. Mitnick’s attack cycle is
very broad and is open to interpretation in some aspects.
Figure 3 depicts the new proposed social engineering attack
framework. This framework clarifies Mitnick’s phases and is
more detailed.
Fig. 3. Social Engineering Attack Framework
In Mitnick’s first phase, the research phase, he states that
when executing a social engineering attack one needs to get
the most possible information about the target. Even though
this is true, this is a very broad statement and it also assumes
that the target is already known and that the goal is already
set. The authors propose an additional step before gathering
the information which is meant for determining what the goal
of the attack is and the best possible target to assist with
reaching the goal. Once the goal and target is known, the actual
information gathering can start. This process is also described
in more detail than Mitnick’s model as one needs to identify
sources of information before anything can be gathered and it
is beneficial to assess the gathered information to ensure that
there is sufficient information to execute the attack. Mitnick’s
attack cycle does not contain a preparation phase which is
also needed during the social engineering attack. The authors
propose a preparation phase which is used to prepare the
gathered information and to develop the attack vector that will
be used during the social engineering attack.
Mitnick’s next phase, development of rapport and trust, is
very similar in the proposed framework but the starting point is
modelled as a separate step. Establishment of communication
is a requirement for any relationship to be built with the
target. The gathered information is used to assist in estab-
lishing communication. Once the attacker and the target are
communicating, the rapport and trust building can commence.
The third phase, according to Mitnick, is the exploitation
phase. This phase also requires more detail than that given
in Mitnick’s attack cycle. Exploiting a relationship is done
with different manipulation techniques and in order for these
techniques to work the target has to be in an emotional state
where the exploitation is possible. This differs between all
human beings and it is thus necessary to first determine what
that emotional state is of the target and then get the target
into the desired emotional state. Once the target is in the right
emotional state, the information can be elicited. The other
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important step not mentioned in Mitnick’s attack cycle is the
debriefing step. The target has to be brought back to a normal
emotional state to avoid further consequences. The idea is
to have the target feel good about giving out unauthorised
information instead of feeling guilty about it.
Finally Mitnick has a fourth phase, utilising the information,
which the authors argue to be not part of the actual social
engineering attack. The social engineering attack focuses on
attacking the human aspect with the intention to achieve a
specified goal, in this case to gain privileged information. This
information can be used to perform a different action, but this
is no longer part of the social engineering attack. For instance
if the information is a password to the system, gaining the
password from a person is a social engineering attack whereas
using the password to break into the system has no human
element to it and is thus not a social engineering attack.
The framework is completed by having a transition phase
after debriefing to either go back and gather more information
if it is found that more information is needed to be able to
complete the attack, or go to the goal satisfaction. Mitnick
also states that previous steps can be repeated if the goal is
not satisfied, though this is not described in much detail. The
proposed framework provides a more precise transition phase
specifying the exact phase to return to and repeat if necessary.
The following subsections describe each of these phases in
more detail.
A. Attack Formulation
The first step of a social engineering attack is to address
the question “What does the social engineer want?”. This goal
of the social engineer is the purpose of the entire attack and
should be very clear. Once the goal is identified, the target
should be selected, as depicted by Figure 4. The target can be
an individual or a group of individuals.
The target may belong to an organisation that is under
attack as part of the goal. For example, the goal may be to
infiltrate an organisation and the target is a security guard who
possesses information required to accomplish the goal. Both
the organisation and the selected target are important in the
information gathering phase.
Fig. 4. Social Engineering Attack : Attack Formulation
B. Information Gathering
Information gathering is a very important part of the social
engineering attack because the probability of developing a
trusting relationship with a target is increased by the quality
of the information regarding the target. A target is more likely
to share information with the attacker if a relationship exists
between the two.
Information is gathered about the target and everything
related to the attack. As depicted in Figure 5, the first step
of gathering information is to ‘identify the possible sources’
from which information can be obtained. The sources can be
anything or anyone with access to the information required for
the attack. These sources can be any publicly available sources
such as company websites, social networking sites or personal
blogs and forums, or private information that is not publicly
available. Techniques such as dumpster diving can be used
where discarded items are scanned for private information,
such as an address on a bank statement. Dumpster diving is
the technique of sifting through trash such as medical records
or bank statements to find anything that can be useful to the
dumpster diver [9].
Fig. 5. Social Engineering Attack : Information Gathering
After gathering information, the information is assessed
to be relevant or not. If the social engineer still does not
have enough information, he can go back to identifying more
sources and restart the information process.
The ‘information gathering’ phase is repeated until the
social engineer is satisfied that sufficient information has been
obtained, such that he can start his preparation for the attack.
C. Preparation
During preparation the social engineer ensures that every-
thing is ready before starting the actual attack. As depicted
by Figure 6, the first step of this phase is to combine
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all information gathered to form a bigger picture about the
planned attack.
Fig. 6. Social Engineering Attack : Preparation
This combined view of the scenario can be used for pre-
texting where a scenario is devised to lure the target into
a required action. An effective pretext should be believable
and withstand scrutiny from the target. It often relies on the
quality of the information gathered on the target’s personality.
An attack vector is now developed; it should contain all the
elements of a social engineering attack [1]. The attack vector
is the attack plan which leads to the satisfaction of the goal. It
has a goal, a target and a social engineer. In addition, the plan
must identify a medium, compliance principles and techniques.
D. Develop a Relationship
As mentioned previously, developing a good relationship
with the target is an essential part of the social engineering
attack. If trust cannot be established, the required information
is unlikely to be elicited from the target. Figure 7 depicts the
first step involved in building a relationship with the target,
namely the ‘establishment of communication’ step. This step is
executed by using the medium identified during the preparation
phase. If a pretext has been included in the plan, it is used
along with the initial communication.
The next step in developing a relationship is the ‘rapport
building’. This entails the actual building of the relationship
and establishment of trust using the devised plan. Various
techniques can be employed to establish trust. This step is not
trivial and can be time consuming. A good pretext simplifies
this step. Once the social engineer has built a good relationship
with the target, the relationship can be exploited to obtain the
information the social engineer requires from the target.
E. Exploit the Relationship
As depicted in Figure 8, exploiting the relationship consists
of two parts: ‘priming the target’ and ‘elicitation’. The first
part is for the attacker to use manipulation tactics and his
preparation to get the target in a desired emotional state suited
to the plan, such as feeling sad or happy. For example, relating
to a sad story can evoke the target into remembering a sad
incident, and subsequently to feel sad.
Once the target is in the desired emotional state, the
elicitation process can start. At the conclusion of the elicitation
Fig. 7. Social Engineering Attack : Develop Relationship
Fig. 8. Social Engineering Attack : Exploit Relationship
phase the social engineer should have obtained the required
information from the target. This may be a password which is
needed for the eventual satisfaction of the goal of the social
engineering attack. After the exploitation phase, it is important
to debrief the target.
F. Debrief
Debriefing the target involves returning the target to a
desired emotional state of mind, as shown in the ‘maintenance’
step in figure 9. It is important for the target not to feel
that he was under attack; if he is in a normal state of mind,
he will probably not reflect too much on the activities that
occurred. For example, if the target had been manipulated
into a sad emotional state and the attacker then elicited a
password from him, the target may feel inadequate because he
has released sensitive information. This feeling of inadequacy
may consequently lead to emotional states such as depression.
It may even lead to suicide by the target as evidenced
in an incident in 2012 involving the solicitation of private
information concerning the British Royal family [10], [11].
During the confinement of Princess Catherine, an Australian
radio talk show host socially engineered a staff member of the
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maternity ward where the princess was a patient, to release
information regarding the Princess’ condition.
Fig. 9. Social Engineering Attack : Debrief
Figure 9 depicts the next step in the debriefing phase,
namely ‘transition’. This is where the social engineer either
decides that the goal has been satisfied or that more infor-
mation is needed and the engineer returns to the information
gathering phase.
The next section discusses the applications of the framework
on two examples.
IV. FRA ME WO RK AP PL IC ATIO N
This section discusses two examples of well-known social
engineering attacks which have also been documented in news
articles. Each of the examples are individually mapped to the
proposed Social Engineering Attack Framework. This exercise
shows that the Social Engineering Attack Framework can
be utilised to convert historical social engineering attacks to
a standardised format. Having historical social engineering
attacks in a standardised format allows one to perform compar-
isons between two different social engineering attacks. These
standardised social engineering attack scenarios can also be
used for social engineering training and awareness testing.
The next subsections analyse each of the examples ac-
cording to the attack framework. Important features of each
social engineering attack are mapped to the components in
the definition of a social engineering attack. The different
components of a social engineering attack are: the type of
communication, the social engineer, the target, a medium, a
goal, one or more compliance principles and one or more
techniques.
A. Example 1 Analysis
The first example happened in 2013 and is described in the
following excerpt [12]:
“In April 2013, the administrative assistant to
a vice-president at a French-based multinational
company received an e-mail referencing an invoice
hosted on a popular file sharing service. A few min-
utes later, the same administrative assistant received
a phone call from another vice president within the
company, instructing her to examine and process the
invoice. The vice president spoke with authority and
used perfect French. However, the invoice was a
fake and the vice president who called her was an
attacker.
The supposed invoice was actually a remote
access Trojan (RAT) that was configured to contact
a command and control (CC) server located in
Ukraine. Using the RAT, the attacker immediately
took control of the administrative assistant’s infected
computer. They logged keystrokes, viewed the desk-
top, and browsed and ex-filtrated files.
These tactics, using an e-mail followed up by a
phone call using perfect French, are highly unusual
and are a sign of aggressive social engineering. In
May 2013, Symantec Security Response published
details on the first attacks of this type targeting
organisations in Europe. Further investigations have
revealed additional details of the attack strategy,
attacks that are financially motivated and continue
to this day.
This example is now mapped to the Social Engineering
Attack Framework. It consists of two different phases and also
demonstrates how the Social Engineering Attack Framework
can handle two different Social Engineering Attacks.
1) First Attack Phase:
The important features of the social engineering attack are
specified below:
Communication — The Social Engineering Attack
is using direct communication with the subclass of
unidirectional communication.
Social Engineer — The Social Engineer is an individ-
ual.
Target — The Target is an individual. In this instance
the target is an administrative assistant to the vice-
president at a French-based multinational company.
Medium — The medium is e-mail.
Goal — The goal of the attack is to gain unauthorised
access to the organisation.
Compliance Principles — The compliance principles
that are used are consistency and authority.
Technique — The technique that is used is phishing.
The next part steps through this example by means of the
attack framework.
Step 1: Attack Formulation
Goal identification: The goal of the attack is to gain
unauthorised access to the organisation’s systems and
thus to the organisation’s information.
Target identification: The target of the attack is the ad-
ministrative assistant to the vice-president at a French-
based multinational company.
Step 2: Information Gathering
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Identify potential sources: Public records of the
company and e-mail communication samples from the
organisation.
Gather information from sources: Collect and find
the public records of the company and collect samples
of e-mail communication.
Assess gathered information: Determine the organisa-
tional hierarchy and assess the e-mail format of internal
organisational e-mail communication.
Step 3: Preparation
Combination and analysis of gathered information:
Identify where the target fits into the organisational
hierarchy and identify the superiors of the target. Iden-
tify the e-mail structure of internal e-mails sent in the
organisation and the type of information that should be
sent to the target.
Development of an attack vector: Write an e-mail
which is similar to other e-mails exchanged within the
organisation but also contains the malicious Remote
Access Trojan (RAT). More specifically, the e-mail’s
format should be similar to the format used in typical
e-mail invoices the administrative assistant receives.
Step 4: Develop Relationship
Establishment of communication: The physical action
of sending the e-mail that was developed during the
‘development of an attack vector’ step is the initial
establishment of communication.
Rapport building: The e-mail contents should be
similar to a typical e-mail the administrative assistant
can expect.
Step 5: Exploit Relationship
Priming the target: The e-mail should be of such
a nature that the administrative assistant would not
immediately delete or discard the e-mail.
Elicitation: In the ‘priming the target’ step, the goal is
for the target to not delete the e-mail immediately. The
elicitation will be deemed successful if the target does
not delete the e-mail.
Step 6: Debrief
Maintenance: The e-mail should be worded in such a
manner that the target is not perturbed by the e-mail.
Transition: The e-mail should note that there will
be some follow-up communication. The target is then
prepared for follow-up communication and thus a tran-
sition is made to the ‘development of an attack vector’
step and not to the ‘goal satisfaction’ step.
2) Second Attack Phase:
The important features of the social engineering attack are
specified below:
Communication — The Social Engineering Attack
is using direct communication with the subclass of
bidirectional communication.
Social Engineer — The Social Engineer is an individ-
ual.
Target — The Target is an individual. In this instance
he is an administrative assistant to the vice-president at
a French-based multinational company.
Medium — The medium is the telephone.
Goal — The goal of the attack is to gain unauthorised
access to the organisation.
Compliance Principles — The compliance principles
that are used are consistency and authority.
Technique — The technique that is used is phishing.
The next part steps through this example by means of the
attack framework.
Step 1: Attack Formulation
Nothing here as it is a transition to the ‘development
of an attack vector’ step.
Step 2: Information Gathering
Nothing here as it is a transition to the ‘development
of an attack vector’ step.
Step 3: Preparation
Combination and analysis of gathered information:
Nothing here as it is a transition to the ‘development
of an attack vector’ step.
Development of an attack vector: The target already
has an e-mail in his inbox containing a malicious
invoice, and during phase 1 this e-mail was not deleted.
This attack vector is aimed at getting the target to open
the malicious invoice so that the social engineer can
gain unauthorised access. In this phase one is required
to develop a transcript to be followed which will use
both authority and consistency principles to get the
target to comply with the request to open the malicious
invoice.
Step 4: Develop Relationship
Establishment of communication: The physical action
of making the phone call of which the transcript has
been developed during the ‘development of an attack
vector’ step is the initial establishment of communica-
tion.
Rapport building: The telephonic conversation should
start off by the attacker introducing himself as the sec-
ond vice-president of the organisation (This information
was gathered from the organisational hierarchy).
Step 5: Exploit Relationship
Priming the target: The target should be aware that
the caller requesting him to process the invoice is a
person in an authoritative position. It must also be
consistent with requests that the target would normally
be required to process as well as consistent with the
e-mail containing the invoice.
Elicitation: Since the target has been primed to comply
with the requests by means of authority and consis-
tency, the social engineer can now request the target to
process the malicious invoice.
Step 6: Debrief
Maintenance: The malicious invoice should be similar
to one that the target would normally receive. The
target should be unaware that he has provided the
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social engineer with unauthorised access by opening
the malicious invoice. Whilst on the phone, the social
engineer should be friendly and reassuring towards the
target. The target must always feel good about helping
the social engineer in order to avoid suspicion.
Transition: The Social Engineer has now obtained
his unauthorised access and can proceed to the goal
satisfaction state.
Goal Satisfaction: The Social Engineer has obtained
his initial goal of obtaining unauthorised access.
B. Example 2 Analysis
The second example happened in 2009 when fliers appear-
ing to be traffic violations were placed on cars in a parking
lot. On these supposed parking violations a website link was
included where one could view pictures associated with the
so-called violation. The website extracted a Dynamic Link
Library (DLL) into the system32 directory on the computer
used to access the website. The DLL installs as an internet
explorer browser helper object once the system is rebooted.
Next a pop-up would appear, informing the user that his
computer contains signs of viruses and Antivirus 360 needs
to perform a scan. If the user agrees to let the anti-virus
application install itself, (it was later found that the anti-virus
application was a virus dropper) it in turn installed a virus.
The attacker did not continue with the attack, however if he
had continued he could have taken full control of the computer
since it was already infected with his software [13].
An excerpt of this article reads as follows [13]:
“I had the opportunity to examine malware
whose initial infection vector was a car windshield
flier with a website address. The malicious programs
were run-of-the-mill; however, the use of fliers was
an innovative way of social engineering potential
victims into visiting a malicious website.
Several days ago, yellow fliers were placed on
the cards in Grand Forks, ND. They stated:
PARKING VIOLATION This vehicle is in vi-
olation of standard parking regulations. To view
pictures with information about your parking pref-
erences, go to website-redacted.
The website showed several photos of cars on
parking lots in that specific town. EXIF data in the
JPG files show that they were edited using Paint
Shop Pro Photo 12 to remove license plate details
of the cars and that the photos were taken using
a Sony DSC-P32 camera. Installing PictureSearch-
Toolbar.exe led to DNS queries for childhe.com, a
domain with a bad reputation according to Syman-
tec, McAfee, etc. Even without the Internet connec-
tion, the program installed (extracted) a DLL into
C:/WINDOWS/system32.
This example is now demonstrated through the use of the
Social Engineering Attack Framework.
1) The Attack Phase:
The important features of the social engineering attack are
specified below:
Communication — The Social Engineering Attack
is using indirect communication through third party
mediums.
Social Engineer — The Social Engineer is an individ-
ual.
Target — The Target is an individual. In this instance,
it is any owner of a car parked in the parking lot.
Medium — The medium is fliers.
Goal — The goal of the attack is to gain unauthorised
access to an individuals computer.
Compliance Principles — The compliance principles
that are used are social compliance and authority.
Technique — The technique that is used is phishing.
The next part steps through this example by means of the
attack framework.
Step 1: Attack Formulation
Goal identification: The goal of the attack is to gain
unauthorised access to an unspecified individuals’ com-
puter.
Target identification: The target of the attack is any
person who owns a car and is parked in the parking lot
at the time of spreading the fliers.
Step 2: Information Gathering
Identify potential sources: Public websites with the
ability to view parking violations and any institute with
authority to reach out a parking violation.
Gather information from sources: Collect sample
parking violations which are placed on windshields of
cars and sample websites where one can view parking
violations.
Assess gathered information: Determine which park-
ing violations are relevant to the specific parking lot,
perhaps on location, region etc. The violation, in this
case, should specifically conform to the standard park-
ing violations reached out in Grand Forks, ND. Also
filter out the website that is consistent with the parking
violation.
Step 3: Preparation
Combination and analysis of gathered information:
Choose one final parking violation / website pair and
finalise the structure of the parking violation, the style
and working of the website.
Development of an attack vector: Develop a parking
violation consistent to the finalised structure as well
as a phishing website which looks similar to the one
chosen in the previous step. On the parking violation,
ensure that there is a section stating that pictures with
information about the parking violation are on a certain
website, with a link to the phishing website.
Step 4: Develop Relationship
Establishment of communication: The physical action
of putting the created fliers on the cars in the parking
978-1-4799-3384-6/14/$31.00 ©2014 IEEE
lot.
Rapport building: The parking violation placed on
the windshield of the cars should be consistent with
parking violations handed out in that parking lot under
standard conditions. The owner of the car receiving
the violation should not doubt whether it is official;
it should look legitimate. When the target visits the
website, the website should also look legitimate, not
raising doubt with the user.
Step 5: Exploit Relationship
Priming the target: The flier should be realistic so that
the owner of the car would take it seriously and not just
throw it away. While driving home the target should
ideally think about the violation and prepare himself to
go to the website to view the parking violation, feeling
pressured due to social compliance to do the right thing
and pay the fine.
Elicitation: Provide a link on the flier which links
to the phishing website. Upon clicking on the link, a
backdoor is installed on the person’s computer, giving
the social engineer the opportunity to gain unauthorised
access to the computer.
Step 6: Debrief
Maintenance: The flier and website should be created
in such a way that the target does not feel threatened.
The website should be similar to the real violations
website so that the victim is confident that he should
take the steps required to pay the violation.
Transition: The social engineer can use the backdoor
to gain unauthorised access to the computer and can
thus proceed to the ‘goal satisfaction’ step.
Goal Satisfaction: The Social Engineer has obtained
his initial goal of unauthorised access.
V. CONCLUSION
The protection of information is extremely important in a
modern society and even though the security around informa-
tion is continuously improving, the one weak point is still the
human being who is susceptible to manipulation techniques.
This paper explored social engineering as a domain and
social engineering attacks as a process inside this domain. A
previous paper by the authors, Towards an Ontological Model
Defining the Social Engineering Domain [1], is revisited and
the ontological model proposed in the paper is explored in
order to further define the social engineering domain.
Kevin Mitnick’s social engineering attack cycle [8] is anal-
ysed and discussed in detail. The authors propose a social
engineering attack framework based on Mitnick’s attack cycle.
The shortcomings in Mitnick’s attack cycle are explored and
improvements of these short-comings are reflected in the
proposed attack framework. Each phase in the proposed social
engineering attack framework is discussed in detail and two
life scenarios are explored as an application of the combi-
nation of the attack framework and the previously proposed
ontological model.
The authors found that Mitnick’s attack cycle is a good base
for social engineering attacks, but lacks significant detail. It is
a very broad explanation of an attack and assumes that certain
components of the attack are already known, such as the goal
of the attack and the target. The attack framework provides
specific steps to identify these component and detailed steps
for all other aspects of an attack.
This paper provides an in depth social engineering attack
framework as an extension to the previously proposed on-
tological model. The framework adds temporal data such as
flow and time whereas the ontological model contains all the
components of a social engineering attack. The framework
and the ontological model can be used to generate social
engineering attack scenarios as well as to map historical social
engineering attacks to a standardised format. This is important
as these scenarios can be used for education and awareness
purposes and enables anyone to analyse and compare different
social engineering attacks. Future work includes the actual
creation of such scenarios.
REFERENCES
[1] F. Mouton, L. Leenen, M. M. Malan, and H. S. Venter, “Towards an
ontological model defining the social engineering domain,” in 11th Hu-
man Choice and Computers International Conference, Turku, Finland,
July 2014, pp. 266–279.
[2] N. F. Noy and D. L. McGuinness, “Ontology development 101: A
guide to creating your first ontology,” Stanford Knowledge Systems
Laboratory, Technical Report KSL-01-05, March 2001.
[3] D. Harley, “Re-floating the titanic: Dealing with social engineering
attacks,” in European Institute for Computer Antivirus Research, 1998.
[4] L. Laribee, “Development of methodical social engineering taxonomy
project,” MSc, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, June
2006.
[5] K. Ivaturi and L. Janczewski, “A taxonomy for social engineering
attacks,” in International Conference on Information Resources Manage-
ment, G. Grant, Ed. Centre for Information Technology, Organizations,
and People, June 2011.
[6] F. Mohd Foozy, R. Ahmad, M. Abdollah, R. Yusof, and M. Mas’ud,
“Generic taxonomy of social engineering attack,” in Malaysian Technical
Universities International Conference on Engineering & Technology,
Batu Pahat, Johor, November 2011.
[7] P. Tetri and J. Vuorinen, “Dissecting social engineering,Behaviour &
Information Technology, vol. 32, no. 10, pp. 1014–1023, 2013.
[8] K. D. Mitnick and W. L. Simon, The art of deception: controlling the
human element of security, W. Publishing., Ed. Indianapolis: Wiley
Publishing, 2002.
[9] J. Long, No tech hacking: A guide to social engineering, dumpster
diving, and shoulder surfing, S. Pinzon, Ed. Syngress, 2011.
[10] F. Mouton, M. M. Malan, and H. S. Venter, “Social engineering from a
normative ethics perspective,” in Information Security for South Africa,
Johannesburg, South Africa, August 2013, pp. 1–8.
[11] Social-Engineer.org. (2012, December) One royal pwning. Social-
Engineer.org. [Online]. Available: http://www.social-engineer.org/social-
engineering/one-royal-pwning/
[12] Symantec Security Response. (2014, January) Francophoned
a sophisticated social engineering attack. Symantec. [On-
line]. Available: http://www.symantec.com/connect/blogs/francophoned-
sophisticated-social-engineering-attack
[13] L. Zeltser. (2009, February) Malware infection that began with
windshield fliers. Internet Storm Center. [Online]. Available:
https://isc.sans.edu/diary/5797
978-1-4799-3384-6/14/$31.00 ©2014 IEEE
... Conversely, individuals and organisations are more exposed to social engineering threats today than ever before. Social engineering is the art of manipulating human weaknesses in order to attain a malicious goal [10]. The growth in cyber security attacks has largely been characterised by an increase in social engineering attacks as well. ...
... Implementing and introducing the ISA programs to protect a firewall composed of the human mind against the strategies of social engineering hackers has been advocated by several authors. For example, Mouton et al. [10] made some recommendations to reduce the risks related to the various social engineering attacks. They argued that there is a necessity for organisations to provide educational training for every single employee in order to help them to establish an information security culture in the workplace and to make employees aware of the different methods used by attackers. ...
... The success of the attack is completely dependent on effective information acquired at this stage. Therefore, it is important to select appropriate sources to obtain information [10]. The physical research and accumulation of data by the attacker is done, in most cases, by using company websites, social media, search engines, popular lunch spots and dumpster diving. ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Due to the ever-increasing adaptation of digital technologies, most organisations are currently vulnerable to social engineering threats. In the context of cybersecurity, social engineering is expressed as the practice of taking advantage of human weaknesses through manipulation to accomplish a malicious goal within the domain of a technical organisation or IT firm, etc. Typically, the attackers or cybercriminals exploit the emotions of human workforces to gain illegal access to their personal or administrative details, credentials, and other classified information. In this research study, various countermeasures have been proposed to mitigate the social engineering threats encountered by these organisations. Firstly, a comprehensive literature review has been undertaken to identify the most frequently occurring cybersecurity and social engineering threats, such as social phishing and spear phishing, electronic theft and email fraud, etc. The primary focus of evaluating the literature is to ascertain the human elements related to the cybersecurity threats in order to recognise staff’s vulnerabilities and lack of awareness, which are exploited by hackers. Thus, these issues can contribute to various cybersecurity loopholes and attacks, which consist of the malfunctioning of the information systems, the transfer of unauthorised funds, and the stealing of credentials, etc. Secondly, this research study has employed two research methodologies—namely, qualitative and quantitative methods—to determine the significance of human behaviours related to cybersecurity. The qualitative study is based on a thorough analysis of the cybersecurity experts’ responses, and it has identified that the employees’ awareness levels positively correlate with the avoidance of cybersecurity breaches in an organisation. Therefore, the organisations can enhance their employees’ contextual knowledge about the most prevalent cybersecurity threats to handle the social engineering attacks. Moreover, the quantitative methodology has been employed by surveying 265 employees from various organisations; and the results intimate that the probability of social engineering attacks can be significantly reduced if the awareness levels of employees can be substantiated and improved. Thirdly, this research study specifies an advanced taxonomy of various social engineering threats based on the qualitative and quantitative analyses. This taxonomy serves as an essential element of this research study, with the primary objectives of facilitating the development and implementation of improved preventive measures and emphasising the significance of ISA in an organisation. Finally, a policy framework has been developed which elaborates on the recommended policies and procedures for organisations to use to disseminate cybersecurity awareness across their employees. For this purpose, the framework outlines three key activities—incident, investigate, and invigilate—required to prepare the employees for the overall improvement of an organisation’s ISA. Consequently, the cybersecurity managers can steer, prioritise, and optimise their human resources to achieve more effective outcomes.
... Social engineering is defined as the art of manipulating people and influencing them by using many tricks and techniques in order to deceive them and to access sensitive resources and systems to obtain confidential information without the need to rely on technical methods and software [8]. As a result, anyone with a certain amount of sophistication and cunning could carry out these attacks. ...
... (3) Exploiting confidence to obtain information from the target and (4) Using the information to reach the target of the attack [8]. In the target search and information gathering phase, after selecting the victim according to certain requirements, the attacker collects as much information about the target as possible to use in the upcoming psychological manipulation before the attack begins [9]. ...
... In the target search and information gathering phase, after selecting the victim according to certain requirements, the attacker collects as much information about the target as possible to use in the upcoming psychological manipulation before the attack begins [9]. The next stage is developing a relationship and trust with the target, which is often the first contact with the victim in which the attacker uses the information gathered to gain sympathy and develop relationships and trust, whether it is direct contact (such as in person or over the phone) or indirectly (such as email or the Internet) [8]. When the attacker and the victim build a relationship, the attacker takes advantage of that trust and abuses it to extract information from the victim, which is the penultimate stage before implementation and achieving the end aim. ...
... O conceito de engenharia social como ciência e seu uso como meio de persuasão de indivíduos ou organizações para cumprir um requerimento específico através da interação social (MOUTON et al., 2014), sustenta a idéia de que é relevante realizar a identificação da origem e do modus operandi dos engenheiros sociais, buscando analisar as falhas de segurança inseridas pelo fator humano nas organizações, demonstrar como os ataques de engenharia social se processam sobre as organizações e qual o nível de preparo para enfrentar essa ameaça. É importante avaliar qual a relação de conformidade existente entre os processos de segurança das empresas investigadas com boas práticas de mercado e técnicas de Segurança da Informação. ...
... Mitnick e Simon (2003) diz que a quarta fase do ataque de engenharia social consiste em usar a informação para um objetivo específico, entretanto, Mouton et al. (2014) argumenta que o uso da informação não é ataque de engenharia social. Por exemplo, se a informação é uma senha para o sistema, obter essa senha através de métodos junto a uma vítima é um ataque de engenharia social, enquanto que usar a senha para invadir o sistema não tem nenhum elemento humano e, portanto, não considera um ataque. ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Information has become an essential resource in contemporary society. Organizations are increasingly investing in technology and equipment to strengthen their security and are forgetting people, the human factor is falling behind. With the growth of computer networks and the Emergence of information technology, Social Engineering attacks have been a current threat to information systems in organizational environments. In order to create containment actions against this threat, it is necessary to understand the behavior of the attackers, i.e. what are the main actions taken to achieve the desired objectives.There is no correction that you can acquire and apply to people to be free from these forms of attack. The solution to combat this problem is knowledge. People should understand how to deal with the forms of attack and what to do to minimize this question in organizations. The present study evaluated, through the application of a survey, the knowledge of the interviewees about Social Engineering, as they perceive its influence in the organizations and how they address the issue of Information Security. The aim of this study is to present how the Social Engineering techniques are applied in responding organizations and how much they are prepared to face this threat suggesting a more human vision of Information Security
... Researchers in the field of social engineering have defined social engineering. For example, [4] defines it as "The "art" of influencing people to leak sensitive information is known as social engineering, and the process of doing so is known as social engineering attacks". [5] defined social engineering "as a threat, often overlooked but regularly exploited; to take advantage of what has long been considered the 'weakest link' in the security chain of an organization --the 'human facto " ...
Preprint
The research concentrated on the susceptibility of bank e-channels users in Nigeria to Cyber Security Attacks. The methodology used in this research was quantitative and qualitative research methods. Secondary data were only used and so much literature on the topic was reviewed. As a result of the scope and limited time for this work, it was not possible to collect primary data There is an important need for this kind of research to know how to affect different levels of authentications for allowing money to leave the account of most susceptible ones and to raise cyber security awareness campaign through different media and continuously educate staff and the public. From the review of relevant literature different experiments conducted, it was found that there is significant evidence that relationships exist between demographic distributions of individuals and the susceptibility to social engineering techniques used on the individuals into releasing sensitive information. It was also found that there was a low level of awareness of bank account holders to current phishing techniques in town. A training model was recommended in addition to the awareness campaign.
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From the Publisher:A Legendary Hacker Reveals How To Guard Against the Gravest Security Risk of All–Human NatureAuthor Biography: Kevin D. Mitnick is a security consultant to corporations worldwide and a cofounder of Defensive Thinking, a Los Angeles-based consulting firm (defensivethinking.com). He has testified before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs on the need for legislation to ensure the security of the government's information systems. His articles have appeared in major news magazines and trade journals, and he has appeared on Court TV, Good Morning America, 60 Minutes, CNN's Burden of Proof and Headline News, and has been a keynote speaker at numerous industry events. He has also hosted a weekly radio show on KFI AM 640, Los Angeles. William L. Simon is a bestselling author of more than a dozen books and an award-winning film and television writer.
December) One royal pwning. Social-Engineer.org
  • Org Social-Engineer
Social-Engineer.org. (2012, December) One royal pwning. Social-Engineer.org. [Online]. Available: http://www.social-engineer.org/socialengineering/one-royal-pwning/