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A Structured Comparison of Social Engineering Intelligence Gathering Tools


Abstract and Figures

Social engineering is the clever manipulation of the human tendency to trust to acquire information assets. While technical security of most critical systems is high, the systems remain vulnerable to attacks from social engineers. Traditional penetration testing approaches often focus on vulnerabilities in network or software systems. Few approaches even consider the exploitation of humans via social engineering. While the amount of social engineering attacks and the damage they cause rise every year, the defences against social engineering do not evolve accordingly. However, tools exist for social engineering intelligence gathering, which means the gathering of information about possible victims that can be used in an attack. We survey these tools and present an overview of their capabilities. We concluded that attackers have a wide range of intelligence gathering tools at their disposal, which increases the likelihood of future attacks and allows even non-technical skilled users to apply these tools.
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A Structured Comparison of Social Engineering
Intelligence Gathering Tools
Kristian Beckers1, Daniel Schosser1, Sebastian Pape2, and Peter Schaab1
1Technische Universit¨at M¨unchen (TUM), Institute of Informatics
Boltzmannstr. 3, 85748 Garching, Germany
2Goethe University Frankfurt, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration
Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 4, 60323 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Social engineering is the clever manipulation of the human
tendency to trust to acquire information assets. While technical security
of most critical systems is high, the systems remain vulnerable to attacks
from social engineers. Traditional penetration testing approaches often
focus on vulnerabilities in network or software systems. Few approaches
even consider the exploitation of humans via social engineering. While the
amount of social engineering attacks and the damage they cause rise every
year, the defences against social engineering do not evolve accordingly.
However, tools exist for social engineering intelligence gathering, which
means the gathering of information about possible victims that can be
used in an attack. We survey these tools and present an overview of their
capabilities. We concluded that attackers have a wide range of intelligence
gathering tools at their disposal, which increases the likelihood of future
attacks and allows even non-technical skilled users to apply these tools.
social engineering; threat analysis; security awareness, security
1 Introduction
“The biggest threat to security of a company is not a computer virus, an unpatched
hole in a key program or a badly installed firewall. In fact, the biggest threat
could be you [...] What I found personally to be true was that it’s easier to
manipulate people rather than technology [...] Most of the time organizations
overlook that human element”. These words from Kevin Mitnick [
] were made
over a decade ago and are still of utmost importance today.
As security technology improves the human user remains the weakest link in
system security. It is widely accepted that the people of an organization are
therefore both the main vulnerability of any organization’s security as well as the
most challenging aspect of system security [
]. Chris Hadnagy [
] defines
social engineering as “Any act that influences a person to take an action that may
or may not be in their best interest”. Numerous security consultants consider it a
given for themselves as well as for genuine attackers to access critical information
via social engineering [14, 43].
The harm of social engineering attacks has been discussed in various reports. In
2 Kristian Beckers, Daniel Schosser, Sebastian Pape, and Peter Schaab
2003 Gulati [
] reported that cyber attacks cost U.S. companies $266 million
every year and that 80% of the attacks are a form of social engineering. Although
not being very recent assessments of the situation, it seems that little has changed
until today. A study of 2011 from Dimensional Research [
] shows that nearly
half of the considered large companies and a third of small companies fell victim
of 25 or more social engineering attacks in the two years before. The study further
shows that costs per incident usually vary between $25 000 and over $100 000.
Furthermore, surveys, like Verizon’s Data Breach Investigation Report [
show the impact of social engineering. According to these studies the impact has
grown from 7% of breaches in 2012 to 29% of breaches in 2013. These numbers
should not be ignored and active support for mitigating these threats is needed.
Even though companies are aware of the social engineering problem, they have
little tools available to even assess the threat for themselves. Hiring penetration
testing companies that attack their clients and show weaknesses in their defences
is one available option. However, these tests have a number of inherent problems.
Particularly, to address legal issues high effort has to be invested upfront [
In addition, the test outcome is closely related to the limited scope of the test.
A tester may find that some employees are violating security policies. While
this is an important finding that lets a company improve the education of their
employees, the completeness of these kind of tests is an issue. Only few employees
can be tested on only few occasions. Moreover, experiments indicate that this
approach is difficult, due to humans’ demotivation when confronted with these
testing results [10].
A number of tools are available that enable intelligence gathering. On one side
using these tools a social engineer can gather information that help him attack
persons or organizations. On the other side, these tools provide an organization
with an excellent alternative to pen testing or awareness trainings, as they allow
to analyse possible vulnerabilities. However, a structured survey on the tools’
capabilities is missing so far.
We believe to improve the current situation by conducting a structured survey of
social engineering intelligence gathering tools and contribute the following:
a classification of existing tools regarding categories such as proposed purpose,
price, perceived usability, visualization of results etc.
a survey of information types retrieved by the tools regarding information
about company employees and their communication channels, as well as
related information e.g. company policies;
a discussion of how even simple attacker types can use these tools for sophis-
ticated social engineering attacks
The remainder of our paper is organised as follows. Section 2 outlines the criteria
for comparison, and Section 3 presents the results of our comparison. Section 4
concludes and provides directions for future research.
A Structured Comparison of Social Engineering Intelligence Gathering Tools 3
2 Social Engineering Basics and Tool Criteria
We acquire a basic understanding of social engineering and the general process
attackers follow in Sect. 2.1. During the process various information is gathered
about people, whom social engineers attack. Section 2.2 details our categorization
of this social engineering information based on related work. Furthermore, we
classify the tools on their potential of applicability, which describes the barriers
that may or may not prevent an attacker from using them. For example, a tool
that has a high price and poor usability will have little potential to be used by
any attacker.
2.1 The Social Engineering Process
Various works report an underlying process to social engineering [
which have recently been unified by Milosevic [
]. A social engineering attack
consists of multiple phases as summarized in Table 1. In phase one the attacker
conducts surveillance to identify a person within the inner circle of the targeted
company. This person shall have access to the information the attacker desires.
The next phase focuses on finding out as much about this person as possible.
Every bit of information can help the attacker to manipulate the victim and her
trust. During the pretexting phase the attacker starts building a relationship to
the victim. Afterwards the attacker exploits the built up trust in the relationship
and evaluates the gathered information in the post-exploitation phase.
Table 1: Overview of Social Engineering Phases by Milosevic [26]
Phase Description
Find targets with sufficient access to information/knowledge
to perform an attack.
Intelligence Gath-
Gather information on each of the valid targets. Choose the
ones to attack.
Use gathered information to build a relationship to the target.
Gain victims’ trust to access additional information.
Exploitation Use the built up trust to get the desired information.
Analyze the attack and the retrieved information. If necessary
return to a previous phase to continue the chain of attack
until the final information has been retrieved.
2.2 Social Engineering Information
This section focuses on types of information that can be gathered by a tool,
in the following referred to as criteria. All criteria cover one or more essential
4 Kristian Beckers, Daniel Schosser, Sebastian Pape, and Peter Schaab
information for social engineering attackers. The more criteria a tool covers, the
more interesting it is for a social engineer during information gathering.
Communication Channels.
Communication channels are one of the most rel-
evant information for a social engineer. This category will list which channels
can be found by a certain tool. Possible channels are “Telephone Numbers”,
“Social Media Accounts”, “E-Mails”, “Instant Messengers”, “Friends”, “Personal
Information” and “Private Locations” [23, 27].
User credentials.
Some tools have access to databases which contain leaked
user credentials. If a social engineer gets access to login information of a certain
employee, it simplifies the conduction of an attack. Firstly, he can directly access
a victim’s accounts. Secondly, the attacker could pose as someone else, e.g. an
administrator from the IT department, and by having access to the target’s data
convince his victim to act in a certain way [18, 27].
Some tools are especially designed to gather location data, while
others provide them as a byproduct. Both, work addresses as well as an em-
ployee’s private addresses can be useful for multiple purposes. Location data can
be gathered from social media as it is embedded in photos and videos taken by
cellphones. Also posts on social media can be tagged with a location. Other tools
can convert IP addresses into physical locations and therefore find the physical
locations of technical equipment [35, 18].
Job Positions.
By retrieving the job position of an employee the social engineer
can figure out what kind of information someone has access to. Based on job
title, the attacker can draw conclusions about whether an employee is new to
a company, what the hierarchy within the company looks like and much more.
Based on the organization’s structure, it is possible to use techniques such as
name-dropping, using the name of someone higher in the company’s hierarchy,
to pressure the target into revealing information [18, 27].
Company Lingo.
One of the easiest ways to convince someone of being au-
thorized to access some information is by knowing the correct lingo [
]. Lingo
means the words and abbreviations employees use within a company. Although
this information is of great importance, it is very challenging to get access to.
Knowledge about the lingo can be obtained by getting access to company manuals,
internal reports or talking to employees.
Personal Information.
The more personal information an attacker has on his
target, the easier it is to find the correct angle and pressure points. One example
would be well-defined spear-phishing e-mails using a person’s interests. In case
the e-mail contains enough private information to make it believable, the target
is far more likely to open an attachment [35, 19].
2.3 Potential for Applicability
This section presents the evaluation criteria to generally classify the software.
Proposed Purpose.
Some of the tools are actually designed to gather informa-
tion on a person or company in the context of social engineering. However, a
A Structured Comparison of Social Engineering Intelligence Gathering Tools 5
user can also use tools for attacks which were designed for something completely
different than social engineering.
While some tools are free, others can be quite expensive and therefore
might not be applicable for a quick self assessment. In some cases the tool itself
is free, but for some features the user needs to have an API key that can be
costly. This criteria focuses on the prices of each tool and its limitations coming
with different price tiers.
Based on the user interface and the amount of documentation pro-
vided, this category assesses the ease of usage. The underlying question is if the
usability of a tool allows a company to perform its own threat assessment.
Input Parameters.
Some tools have a broad range of possible search arguments,
but most tools need specific information to initiate a search. Depending on which
specific piece of information is required by the tool, this might limit the social
engineer in the decision what tools to use.
Visualize Output.
Some tools print all information into tables while others
have better ways of visualizing gathered information. For example location data
can be illustrated by marking the positions on a map, instead of only providing
GPS coordinates.
Ranking of results.
As the amount of gathered information grows, the more
valuable an adequate selection and sorting becomes. Therefore, filtering irrelevant
information is helpful in focusing on more promising targets/information. We
did not find significant support for filtering in the analysed tools and therefore
do not list this criteria in the following.
Suggesting Counter-Measures.
Most of the tools are only designed to gather
information and do not inform how to protect this information. While this is not
relevant for social engineers, it is highly relevant for those who want to protect
themselves against attackers and against information gathering in general. Note
that none of the tools suggest countermeasures, therefore we did not list the
category in the following.
3 Comparing Social Engineering Tools and Webpages
In the following section, we introduce and analyze relevant tools and webpages.
In a second step we provide an overview over the types of information that can
be gathered by them.
3.1 Social Engineering Tools and Webpages
We compiled the following list of social engineering tools by using the following
words ”social engineering and tool or application or script or webpage” in a
search and the list published by Hadnagy [
]. Three security researchers
6 Kristian Beckers, Daniel Schosser, Sebastian Pape, and Peter Schaab
analysed the results independently and we included all tools and webpages that
they agreed on having the potential to help a social engineering attacker conduct
the process outlined in Sect. 2.1. We identified the following tools and webpages
that met our criteria.
Maltego (Kali Linux Edition, Version 3.6.1)
Maltego [
] is an intelligence
and forensics application. Before starting a search, the user can choose between
different machines. Every machine has its own purpose and is designed for a
particular attack vector. Maltego offers 12 default machines within the software
such as: Company Stalker This machine tries to get all e-mail addresses at a
domain to resolve them on social networks. It also gets documents and extracts
meta data. As an input, it needs a company’s domain. Find Wikipedia Edits
This machine takes a domain and looks for possible Wikipedia edits. Footprint
L1 This module performs a level 1 (fast, basic) footprint of a domain. Person -
E-Mail Address This machine tries to obtain someone’s e-mail address and checks
where it’s used on the internet.
Maltego combines multiple modules to gather information from various sources
and represents them in an easy to understand way in form of a bubble diagram.
The user can start of with a domain name, a username, an IP address or the
name of a person depending on which module he wishes to use. The gained
information can be used for further research e.g. as input for other modules.
Recon-ng (Version 4.8.0)
Recon-ng [
] is a full-featured Web Reconnaissance
framework. It is based on a large list of modules which can be used to gather
information about a specific target. The modules range from host information
to social media. The user is free to chain these modules after each other and by
starting with a single domain name, the database can be filled with employee
names, their e-mail addresses, usernames, passwords and geolocations of all
involved servers. The final reports can be exported in json, csv, xml, html or as
a pdf. Similar to the Social Engineering Toolkit and Metasploit its user interface
is console based. (Version 1.4) [
] is a geolocation Open Source Intelligence
(OSINT) tool. It is designed to gather geolocation related information from online
sources like social networks. This information can be filtered by location or date
and is presented on a map. Therefore, is useful to follow the trace of
where a person has been over the time of using certain social media platforms.
Examples would be Instagram, Twitter or Tumblr which gather location data on
where photos or posts have been created. These information can be displayed on
a map and recreate a trace of places where a person has been.
Spokeo [
] is a search engine for people in the United States of America.
There exist equivalent versions for other countries e.g. and
index people from all over the world. By entering the name, e-mail address, phone
number, address or username of a person all related people matching the provided
criteria are reported back. Depending on the wanted detail of the provided report,
the price varies.
A Structured Comparison of Social Engineering Intelligence Gathering Tools 7
Social Engineering Toolkit (SET)
] does not focus on finding infor-
mation about a person. SET rather uses information on persons to e.g. send
them phishing e-mails or gather information about company networks. The SET
allows integration with other tools such as Metasploit that contain various scripts
for vulnerability testing.
The Wayback Machine
The Wayback Machine [
] is an archive of the internet.
The vendor claims to provide the history of more then 427 billion web pages (as
of July 2015). The platform creates snapshots of websites and allows a user to go
back to older versions of a website that have been replaced by newer ones.
theHarvester (Version 2.7)
The Harvester [
] is designed to gather e-mail
addresses, subdomains, hosts, and open ports from public sources. These sources
contain search engines, PGP key servers and the SHODAN [
] computer database
for internet-connected devices.
The Whitepages [
] website supports persons in finding people,
their addresses and telephone numbers, private and from work. The service
focuses on the U.S. and also provides reverse phone searches and similar means
to identify a person based on technical information such as a phone number.
Background Checks
The [
] website provides infor-
mation about people that has been collected by background checks on them for
e.g. a telecommunication provider. The intention is that people can get informed
what information is available about them and most likely checked in situations
such as job interviews. The website Instant Checkmate [
] on the other hand
focuses on providing information to the public about people’s arrest records and
criminal behaviour.
Tax Records
Especially in the United States it is very easy to gain access to
government information, as most data is publicly available [
]. Every person
interested in the data can get access to arrest records, tax records and more for
a small monetary fee per request. In addition, Ratsit in Sweden [
], Veroposi
in Finland [
], Skatterlister in Norway [
] and recently the Federal Board of
Revenue in Pakistan [31] also publish tax records online.
Company Related Information
As social engineers thrive to know as much
about the social surroundings of a target as possible, there are a lot of tools,
that help gathering social related information about a target. Websites like
KnowEm [
] and Namechk [
] allow to search on more then 600 social media
networks, if a username is already allocated or still available. While this is not
the primary purpose of the website, an attacker can use this to track down social
media networks, which a target is using. SocialMention [
] is a platform, that
searches for user-generated content like posts, blogs, videos, etc. from a specific
user. By gathering this kind of information the attacker learns a lot about the
target and his behavior.
In most cases a social engineer is not after private information about a target, but
work related information. This is due to an attacker generally trying to get access
8 Kristian Beckers, Daniel Schosser, Sebastian Pape, and Peter Schaab
to work related sensitive information. Websites such as Monster [
], LinkedIn [
and Xing [
] are good sources for collecting CVs and current job positions of
people related to the target. In addition platforms like careerbuilder [
] and
glassdoor [
] provide information about open job offers and expected earnings.
Hoovers [
], MarketVisual [
] and LittleSis [
] are useful to gain knowledge
about the social networks of employees. Especially for larger companies, these
websites offer information about who is connected to whom.
3.2 Analyzing the Social Engineering Attack Potential
After having established each tool’s characteristics, it is important to know, what
tool is able to retrieve which kind of information. Some tools are able to collect
more information than others and some information can only be found with
a specific tool. Table 2 provides an overview of the tools survey. Furthermore,
Table 3 provides a refinement of the previous table considering the potential for
applicability categories introduced in Sect. 2.3 for selected tools and webpages.
For space reasons we do not show the information for all tools and websites.
Table 2: Social Engineering Tool Comparison
Wayback Machine
Instant Checkmate
Search by Person/ Company o++++ ++++ ++++ +++++ ++
Retrieve E-Mail Address o++++ ooo++o o o o
Retrieve Username/ Password oo++oooooooo
Retrieve Job-Title oo++oooooo++ ++
Retrieve Locations o+++++ooo++ ++++
Retrieve Personal Data oooo++oo+ + ++ ++
Usability ++++++++++++++++ ++
Visualize Output ++++++ ++++ +++++ ++++
Retrieve Company Lingo ooooooooooo
Free to use ++++ ++++ o++++ ++++ o o
oDoes not apply or cannot be used in this case
+Does apply in some cases, does collect limited information
++ Does fully apply, does gather the amount/quality of information needed
A Structured Comparison of Social Engineering Intelligence Gathering Tools 9
Table 3: Potential for Applicability
Category Maltego Recon-ng Spokeo
The Wayback Ma-
The Harvester
Delivery of a threat
picture of an orga-
nization’s environ-
Enables conduc-
tion of web-based
Provision of geolo-
cation related infor-
mation from social
Provision of per-
sonal information.
Archive for web-
pages and other
Gather e-mails,
subdomains, hosts
and open ports
from different
public sources.
Free community
edition, Full license
$760first year,
Free, API Keys up
to $60,000.
Free basic informa-
tion, $4.95month
for detailed re-
ports, $9.95 for
court records.
Free. Free.
Easy to understand
UI. Basic knowl-
edge about struc-
ture and connec-
tion of information
and available ma-
chines required.
Terminal based
tool. Basic knowl-
edge about struc-
ture and connec-
tion of information
and available
modules required.
Easy to use due to
UI and step by step
Easy to use due to
step by step guid-
Easy to use due
to centralization in
single search field.
Terminal based
tool. Simple
Input Pa-
Depending on the
machine name, web
domain, username,
company name.
Depending on the
module domain
name, URL, name.
Name, e-mail,
phone, username,
Web domain.
Company name,
web domain.
Bubble diagram.
Color coded data
categories. Bubble
sizes according to
data amount.
Local database ex-
portable to various
Data listed, pins on
Pins on map.
Calendar based
data entries. Avail-
able snapshots
Data tables.
Phase 1 - Pre-
Engagement Inter-
actions, Phase 2 -
Intelligence Gather-
Phase 2 - Intelli-
gence Gathering
Phase 2 - Intelli-
gence Gathering
Phase 1 - Pre-
Engagement Inter-
actions, Phase 2 -
Intelligence Gather-
Phase 1 - Pre-
Engagement Inter-
actions, Phase 2 -
Intelligence Gather-
Phase 2 - Intelli-
gence Gathering
10 Kristian Beckers, Daniel Schosser, Sebastian Pape, and Peter Schaab
Our goal is to show the utility of these tools for attackers. Therefore, we selected
three attack types mentioned repeatedly [
]: Phishing,Baiting, and
Impersonation. We describe these below including their needs of two essential
information categories: communication channels and company knowledge. An
attacker requires communication channels since the attacker has to communicate
with a victim to exploit her trust. In addition, an attacker requires knowledge
about the company to know whom to attack and how to get the companies
employees’ trust. The more details an attacker knows, the more likely people
believe he has a relation to the company. We detail these information needs for
the attack types below and refine them in Table 4.
refers to masquerading as a trustworthy entity and using this trust
to acquire information or manipulating somebody to perform an action. This
often appears in an unguided way via email to thousands of possible victims.
Recently, spear-phishing attacks happen, which aim for a specific target instead
of the broader mass. The social engineer gathers as much intelligence about the
target as he can or needs and then prepares a tailored message for the victim.
Information needs:
Phishing attacks are mainly based on communicating with
the victim, therefore the amount of information on communication channels is
critical. The more channels an attacker has, the easier it is, to find one that can
help bridge the gap between the engineer and the victim. In addition, the more
company knowledge exist, the more targeted the attack can be.
is to leave a storage medium (e.g., a USB stick) inside a company
location that contains malicious software (e.g., a key logger). The malicious
software is executed automatically when the stick is inserted in a computer.
Information needs:
Baiting is a passive attack vector, which does not need
direct interaction with the victim. Therefore, the focus lies on gathering company
knowledge. In particular, locations and walking routes of employees for placing
the storage medium are essential.
is to play the role of someone a victim is likely to trust or obey,
e.g. an authority figure. The attacker fools the victim into allowing him access
to the desired location or information. Usually, attackers prepare well for an
impersonation and leverage vast amount of information.
Information needs:
For a successful impersonation attack company knowledge
is a priority. The social engineer needs knowledge of numerous areas of the
company. The more information he has on the persona he is playing, the more
convincing he can be. Communication channels are of less importance, since the
victim is approached in person.
We illustrate the degree to which the information needs of a social engineer
can be covered for the discussed attack types. Tables 5 and 6 match tools with
communication channels and company knowledge. Table 6 reveals that numerous
tools cover information gathering for locations, websites, new employees etc. of
companies. However, the Company Lingo is not covered at all. Company lingo
contains all abbreviations and specific terms used in a company and has been
used by social engineers to bypass authentication mechanisms, e.g. personnel
often thinks everyone knowing the company lingo belongs to the company [27].
A Structured Comparison of Social Engineering Intelligence Gathering Tools 11
Table 4: Mapping of Social Engineering Characteristics to Attack Types
Attack Type
Phishing Baiting Impersonation
Telephone Number x
Friends x x
Personal Information x x
Private Locations x x
EMail x
Instant Messenger x
Co-Workers: Communication x
Company Knowledge
Co-Workers: New Employee x
Co-Workers: Hierarchies x
Lingo x x
Facilities: Security-Measures x x
Facilities: Company Location x x
Websites x
Policies: Software x
Policies: Network x
Policies: Organization x
Table 5: Tool Coverage for Communication Channels
Wayback Machine
Telephone Number x x
EMail x x x x x
Instant Messenger x x x x x
Friends x x x x x
Personal Information x x x x x x
Private Locations x x x
For “Facility Security Measures”, “Security Policies” and “Software Policies”
there is a similar result. Besides theHarvester and Recon-ng, which can both only
gather information concerning web-security like open ports or SSL-Encryption,
all other tools are not directly suitable for social engineers. Wireshark needs
physical access, which is not exactly what a social engineer prefers and Gitrob
is one of the tools, with very slim chances of success. If the company has any
security policies or hosts their sourcecode within the company, then Gitrob will
most likely not be able to access it and therefore not gain any information.
To sum up, modern social engineers have a variety of tools at their disposal
for information gathering, which they can use in numerous attacks. We provide
an exemplary overview for phishing, baiting, and impersonation attacks and
summarize in Table 7. The empty fields mean that three security researchers
could not identify a use for that tool for any of the attacks above. Note that there
are still some types of information that are difficult to gather for an attacker such
as company lingo, but we have little doubt that in the future further tools and
social media offers will fill this gap. Furthermore, our comparison showed that
all tools have a good or great usability and provide easy to understand output.
12 Kristian Beckers, Daniel Schosser, Sebastian Pape, and Peter Schaab
Table 6: Tool Coverage for Company Knowledge
Wayback Machine
Company Locations x x x x x x
Company Lingo
Special Knowledge x x x x
New Employees x x x
Hierarchies x x x
Websites x x x x
Facility Security Measures x x
Security Policies x x x
Software Policies x x x
Table 7:
Tools vs. AttackType Knowledge with P for Phishing, I for Impersonation,
and B for Baiting
Wayback Machine
Telephone Number P P
Friends P,I P,I P,I P,I P,I
Personal Information P,I P,I P,I P,I P,I P,I
Private Locations P,I P,I P,I
E-Mail P P P P P
InstantMessenger P P P P P
Co-Workers: NewEmployee I I I
Co-Workers: Hierarchies I I I
Facilities: Security-Measures B,I B,I
Facilities: Company Location B,I B,I B,I B,I B,I B,I
Websites P P P P
This means intelligence gathering can be used by an attacker with little technical
knowledge such as script kiddies. Therefore, we have to take the threats arising
from increased and easily available knowledge for social engineering seriously.
4 Conclusions
We conducted a structured survey of social engineering tools, which ease the
attacker’s effort of finding information about victims. We mapped the information
to their usefulness for phishing, impersonation or baiting attacks. Our analysis
revealed that the social engineering threat is more dangerous than ever before,
A Structured Comparison of Social Engineering Intelligence Gathering Tools 13
due to the number of tools at an attacker’s disposal and the significant amount
of detail they provide. We propose the following.
Implications for possible Victims
People in general, not only employees in
companies, can fall victim to social engineering. Therefore, people should find out
what is available about them in the web using the tools or websites listed here.
Ideally, stories of new contacts and unusual requests to secret information should
be checked and verified more carefully than in the past. Means of protection can
include false information released such a bogus address or non-existing hobbies.
Any requests using this information identify possible social engineers.
Implications for Security Practitioners
Chief information officers and con-
sultants should integrate a demonstration of the tools in this publication to raise
awareness of the social engineering threat in companies. Just when people see
the ease of collecting information with the tools and websites and how these are
used e.g. in phishing, they can understand the need for strict security policies
with regard to the release of data in the web.
Suggestions for Law Enforcement
has to operate under the assumption that
criminals will get all information about their victims without ever leaving their
home or having mature computer skills. Everyone can be a social engineer and is
a possible perpetrator. Countermeasures have to include network traffic analysis
of how an attacker gathered the information for his attacks.
Limitations of the Tools
The only information type that social engineering
tools do not provide today is the so-called company lingo, the abbreviations and
specific words used in a company or domain. However, we are certain that in the
future, tools combining machine learning and big data analysis will fill this gap.
Limitations of our Study
We conducted the study using a previous survey of
tools and a web search engine. These sources can be extended in particular to
including sites that are not indexed by web search engines e.g. in the dark web.
This work will require a collaboration with a law enforcement agency.
This research has been partially supported by the Federal Ministry of Education
and Research Germany (BMBF) with project grant number 16KIS0240.
1. Freebackgroundcheck.
2. Instant checkmate.
3. Norwegian register.
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... Social engineering attacks represent a continuing threat to employees of organizations. With a wide availability of different tools and information sources [19], it is a challenging task to keep up to date of recent attacks on employees since new attacks are being developed and modifications of known attack scenarios are emerging. For example, during the last year, scammers have already varied their approach and also ask for purchase and transfer of online gift cards in order to scam employees. ...
... -Sect. 2.1.1 describes a survey on tools for social engineering [19] (cf. Sect. ...
... On the other hand, these tools could also provide an organization with an excellent alternative to pen testing or awareness trainings, as they allow to analyze possible vulnerabilities. For that purpose, we did a structured survey on the tools' capabilities [19] and contribute the following: ...
Full-text available
In order to address security and privacy problems in practice, it is very important to have a solid elicitation of requirements, before trying to address the problem. In this thesis, specific challenges of the areas of social engineering, security management and privacy enhancing technologies are analyzed: Social Engineering: An overview of existing tools usable for social engineering is provided and defenses against social engineering are analyzed. Serious games are proposed as a more pleasant way to raise employees’ awareness and to train them. Security Management: Specific requirements for small and medium sized energy providers are analyzed and a set of tools to support them in assessing security risks and improving their security is proposed. Larger enterprises are supported by a method to collect security key performance indicators for different subsidiaries and with a risk assessment method for apps on mobile devices. Furthermore, a method to select a secure cloud provider – the currently most popular form of outsourcing – is provided. Privacy Enhancing Technologies: Relevant factors for the users’ adoption of privacy enhancing technologies are identified and economic incentives and hindrances for companies are discussed. Privacy by design is applied to integrate privacy into the use cases e-commerce and internet of things.
... As explained by Milosevic, Social engineering attack process can be divided into: (a) pre-engagement interaction, (b) intelligence gathering, (c) pretexting, (d) exploiting, and (e) postexploitation. 13 Real life examples where social engineers successfully by pass the security of prominent organizations using social engineering techniques are, (a) Google internal system was compromised in 2009, (b) RSA security token was broken in 2011, (c) Facebook was compromised in 2013, (d) New York Times was compromised in 2013, and (e) PayPal customers on a daily basis receive phishing emails. 4 These are some of the examples indicating the importance of social engineering awareness and education. ...
... Baiting 1,4,8,13,15,21 In Baiting, attacker instead of using electronic medium uses a physical medium to attack. For example, delivering the infected USB drive in organizational surroundings once opened by the employee will infect the device Shoulder surfing 4,10,14,16,21,24 As the name suggests, attacker gathers information by seeing from the shoulder of a victim. ...
... Phishing 3,8,9,[13][14][15][16]25 In phishing, an attacker tries to obtain personal or confidential information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details or secret organizational information in electronic communication Spear phishing 1,2,4,9,15,24 Spear phishing is a type of phishing attack, which focuses on targeting specific person or organization instead of an unknown target. For example, to get specific information from Bob. ...
Full-text available
The previous year has seen an enormous increase in the studies related to social engineering. This increase is partly due to increasing number of social engineering attacks and partly due to people's inability to identify the attack. Thus, it is of great importance to find solutions which are helpful for human to understand the social engineering attacks and scenarios. To address this, we have performed a literature review of studies (on social engineering) in top‐notch journals and conferences. In this paper, we have enlisted the types of attacks, and the persuasion techniques used by social engineers as listed in the literature. We also combined different theories which researchers tried to use to explain various activities of social engineers. Furthermore, we have mentioned that a better understanding of the social engineering attack scenarios can be done using thematic and game‐based analysis techniques. Preliminary empirical evaluation of the proposed game based method shows overall neutral results. Future extension and evaluation is needed for the proposed methods. Download freely from visiting the below link:
... Social Engineering is defined as a technique that exploits human weaknesses and aims to manipulate people into breaking normal security procedures [33]. It is expected that machine learning techniques surface as new powerful tools in the social engineering area [8] while defenders still have a lack of tool support [6]. In general, companies have two main strategies to defend against social engineering attacks: social engineering penetration testing [55] or raising the security awareness via campaigns or trainings. ...
Serious games seem to be a good alternative to traditional trainings since they are supposed to be more entertaining and engaging. However, serious games also create specific challenges: The serious games should not only be adapted to specific target groups, but also be capable of addressing recent attacks. Furthermore, evaluation of the serious games turns out to be challenging. While this already holds for serious games in general, it is even more difficult for serious games on security and privacy awareness. On the one hand, because it is hard to measure security and privacy awareness. On the other hand, because both of these topics are currently often in the main stream media requiring to make sure that a measured change really results from the game session. This paper briefly introduces three serious games to counter social engineering attacks and one serious game to raise privacy awareness. Based on the introduced games the raised challenges are discussed and partially existing solutions are presented.
... Social engineering attacks represent a continuing threat to employees of organizations. With a wide availability of different tools and information sources [5], it is a challenging task to keep up to date of recent attacks on employees since new attacks are being developed and modifications of known attack scenarios are emerging. The latest Data Breach Investigations Report [2] reports another increase of financially motivated social engineering, where the attacker directly ask for some money, i. e. by impersonating CEOs or other high-level executives. ...
Recent approaches to raise security awareness have improved a lot in terms of user-friendliness and user engagement. However, since social engineering attacks on employees are evolving fast, new variants arise very rapidly. To deal with recent changes, our serious game CyberSecurity Awareness Quiz provides a quiz on recent variants to make employees aware of new attacks or attack variants in an entertaining way. While the gameplay of a quiz is more or less generic, the core of our contribution is a concept to create questions and answers based on current affairs and attacks observed in the wild.
Full-text available
Social engineering may be regarded as a umbrella term for computer exploitations that employ a variety of strategies to manipulate a user. It represents a real threat to individuals, companies, organizations, and governments. This paper explains the concept of social engineering and the impact it has on society. Introduction Protection of sensitive information is vitally important to governments and organizations. Although the effectiveness of protecting information is increasing, people remain susceptible to manipulation and the human element is the weak link. The act of influencing and manipulating people to divulge sensitive information is known as social engineering or social attacks [1]. Social engineering consists of techniques used to manipulate people into performing actions or divulging confidential information. It is the acquisition of sensitive information by an outsider. To achieve that, a social engineer tricks someone into providing access to information or breaking normal security procedures. The process of doing that is known as social engineering attack. Social engineering can be used in face-to-face interactions, over the telephones, letters, emails, websites or through persons. It threatens not only companies, organizations, and governments, but also individuals. While technology has made some fraudulent activities more difficult, it has created a new opportunities for adaptable fraudsters. The strongest security technology can be overcome by a smart social engineer. Social engineering is entrenched in both computer science and social psychology. Knowledge of both disciples is needed to perform research in social engineering. Elements of social engineering [2] are shown in Figure 1.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Social engineering has become an emerging threat in virtual communities and is an effective means to attack information systems. Today's knowledge workers make use of a number of services that leverage sophisticated social engineering attacks. Moreover, there is a trend towards BYOD (bring your own device) policies and the usage of online communication and collaboration tools in private and business environments. In globally acting companies, teams are no longer geographically co-located but staffed just-in-time. The decrease in personal interaction combined with the plethora of tools used (E-Mail, IM, Skype, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Lync, etc.) create new attack vectors for social engineering attacks. Recent attacks on companies such as the New York Times, RSA, or Apple have shown that targeted spear-phishing attacks are an effective evolution of social engineering attacks. When combined with zero-day-exploits they become a dangerous weapon, often used by advanced persistent threats. This paper provides a taxonomy of well-known social engineering attacks as well as a comprehensive overview of advanced social engineering attacks on the knowledge worker.
Full-text available
Modern global economic and political conditions, technological infrastructure, and socio-cultural developments all contribute to an increasingly turbulent and dynamic environment for organizations, which maintain information systems (IS) for use in business, government, and other domains. As our institutions (economic, political, military, legal, social) become increasingly global and inter-connected; as we rely more on automated control systems to provide us with energy and services; and as we establish internet-based mechanisms for coordinating this global interaction, we introduce greater vulnerability to our systems and processes. This increased dependence on cyberspace also inflates our vulnerability – isolation is no longer an option. Perhaps no aspect of this phenomenon is as alarming and challenging as the need to understand and address the various risks to the security of the IS on which we depend.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Penetration tests on IT systems are sometimes coupled with physical penetration tests and social engineering. In physical penetration tests where social engineering is allowed, the penetration tester directly interacts with the employees. These interactions are usually based on deception and if not done properly can upset the employees, violate their privacy or damage their trust toward the organization and might lead to law suits and loss of productivity. We propose two methodologies for performing a physical penetration test where the goal is to gain an asset using social engineering. These methodologies aim to reduce the impact of the penetration test on the employees. The methodologies have been validated by a set of penetration tests performed over a period of two years
Methodologies for the penetration testing of computer networks and social engineering tests are presented. These tests concentrate on locating and identifying potential victims, getting to know their vulnerabilities and then exploiting these vulnerabilites. In case of social engineering tests, care must be taken to protect the victim from discipline or dismissal. The best approach is to provide a tightly-structured audit-style of social engineering test in which the objectives and the results can be clearly specified and considered to be universally fair and appropriate.
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 ( 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.
The threat of social engineering and your defense against it
  • R Gulati
R. Gulati. The threat of social engineering and your defense against it. SANS Reading Room, 2003.
Social engineering toolkit (set)
  • Hadnagy
Hadnagy. Social engineering toolkit (set).