A Multi-Staged Attack Works Well

A Multi-Staged Attack – usually a phishing email, followed up by a phone call.

It works because like Michele says…

… “if it comes from more than one source, it must be true.”

The Attack

A call will come in, and a stranger will have a believable story that relies on the email they sent you.

What they’re asking of you won’t seem like a big a deal… maybe they’re seeking a little piece of information, or for you to perform a seemingly mundane task on their behalf.

The call will have a sense of urgency, a realistic reason why they need you to do something ASAP. It will seem logical.

The attacker will be slick with words, and you’ll start to feel like helping them

“People don’t want to be rude, it’s a social faux pas. This attack exploits our natural instinct to be helpful” says Michele.

The Defence

don’t click any links in the email they’re referring to

– ask yourself if the call is coming from an expected source?

– be the outgoing call

– buy yourself time. Say something like, “I’d happy to help, but you caught me in the middle of something. Let me finish it and I’ll call you right back, what’s your number?”

I can confirm the effectiveness of this attack.

Did this for years back in the early days of the internet – not for nefarious reasons, but for sales.  It was amazing how many strangers would take my call.

Chain of Events

Search for companies who would benefit from buying advertising on my site > copy/paste sales email that concludes with, “I’ll followup with you in a couple days” > send, then wait 2 days > phone them, “Hi it’s Keri, I’m calling to followup on the email I sent, sure I’ll hold for the manager thanks” > close sale

This has been Part 3/3 in a series with Michele Fincher of Social Engineer, Inc., a premier consulting and training company which specializes in the art and science of social engineering (SE.)

Meet Michele here

Blog tag = social engineering (25)



Watch Out for On-site Impersonation Attacks

When a stranger shows up to your place of business, don’t take it at face value they are who they claim to be.

The Attack

By exploiting people’s trust, manners, and our social nature to be helpful, impersonation is an effective way to gain physical access to somewhere otherwise off-limits.

The attacker will seem genuine, probably because they’ve prepared by collecting information about your organization.

They will look the part, and it will make sense what are they asking for

Example: “Oh you’re wearing a tool belt and construction vest, it seems logical you’d like access to our mechanical room, okay I’ll take you there.”

Like when Michele posed as a singing telegram.

She donned a set of medical scrubs, got some grocery store chocolates and balloons and showed up at the target’s business.

“No, I’m not on today’s appointment list, I’m a singing telegram sent by a secret admirer of Mr. Jones.”

Then better yet, “No I don’t have my ID on me, but look, my name is written on my stethoscope.”

Michele says the security guards did the right thing by escorting her up to see Mr. Jones. In she went and sang her heart out. Everyone loved it, so they forgot about her because she was then left alone to roam the building.

Which Impersonations Work Best, Michele?

pest control, because no one wants to deal with bugs

– play to stereotypes and expectations – she’s a woman so must be the underling, and her male counterpart the boss

– a woman lowers people’s guard, take advantage of a gender bias

– exploit the automatic response to authority. Example: wear a safety vest and hard hat to direct traffic, without having to offer an explanation

The Defence

– ask lots of questions

– ask to see ID

– stop the stranger and ask a non-yes/no question like, “what can I help you find?”

– never leave a guest unattended

– don’t feel shy to be a stickler

This has been Part 2/3 in a series with Michele Fincher, Chief Influencing Agent at Social Engineer, Inc., a premier consulting and training company which specializes in the art and science of social engineering (SE.)

Meet Michele here.

Blog tag = Social Engineering (25)



Don’t Get “Vished” – Attacked via the Phone

Basically – the phone is used as an attack vector to get information.

Vishing – attacker calls you and extracts sensitive information you’d otherwise not share

This type of psychological attack takes advantage of trust, manners, and our social nature to want to be helpful.

The Attack

A stranger calls you at work. They will usually assume 1 of 2 personas – friendly, or intimidating.

1 – the caller is friendly and fun, making you feel rude saying no to their request

2 – the caller poses as someone higher up the corporate ladder. They’ll create a sense of urgency and obligation for you to provide them the requested information. So not wanting to disappoint your “boss”, you give it to them.

While the above are just 2 of the many possible personas, they’re the most popular. See chart below for more angles.

The Defence

– your gut. If something feels off, don’t be shy to say “I can’t” or flat out “no”

– be the outgoing call. Say, “I can probably help you with that, let me finish this email and I’ll call you right back… what’s you number?”

– phone number spoofing is easy, as in, caller ID is not reliable

– vishing attacks often happen while you’re very busy and distracted, so your defences are already down

– remember no information is inconsequential. The attacker may be seeking a tiny piece of information that seems small and frivolous, but really, it’s a key piece to a bigger puzzle

– someone recently tried to vish me, read the anatomy of the attack here

This has been Part 1/3 in a series with Michele Fincher of Social Engineer, Inc., a premier consulting and training company which specializes in the art and science of social engineering (SE.)

Meet Michele here.



Analzying a Vishing Attack

There’s a CRA (Canada Revenue Agency) scam going around right now.  I received a call from “Roger” at the CRA this week, asking me verify my current address.

Let’s analyze at the attack.

The Attack

Flag #1

Roger’s number displayed on my phone – 905-XXX-XXXX. Nope.

The CRA agent’s number will never display, it will come up as “Private” or “Blocked” because imagine? People would lose their minds dialling directly to harass the agent.

Flag #2

Roger lists my last 3 home addresses, my company name, then asks for only one piece of information to verify my identity – my birthday. One piece of publicly available information to verify me?  No way.

From the CRA website, here’s the list of identification questions they’ll use.

Flag #3

Me: this number on my screen, if I call it back it’ll go to you?
Roger: yes, that will go directly to my desk.

Uh-huh. See Flag #1. Plus, if he’s at his desk, why don’t I hear office noises in the background?

Let’s keep talking.

Me: what’s the problem?
Roger: the address we have on file for your company is incorrect, because the mail we sent you was returned. We need to update your address.

Flag #4

Not only do I have my mail forwarded from my old downtown address, but my accountant and I are very on top of things, so there is no chance this is correct.

I tell him to switch it to my home address, which he has already listed, and he rushes off the phone.

I immediately email my accountant, who searches the CRA database and comes back with this confirmation – my correct address is on file.

Flag #5

I call the number back and it goes straight to voicemail.

Not only is it full and cannot accept new messages, but the name on the voicemail is not Roger.

Flag #6

I trace the phone number, and land up at a suburban house just outside of Toronto. Not posting a map of that, bet the poor guy has no idea his number has been hijacked.

Flag #7

Over to Google, and there’s news everywhere, including one from CBC a couple weeks ago warning Ontario residents. Read it here.

The Defence

– stay sharp and calm… the above played out over 60 seconds, as in, quickly. And if the call comes in while you are distracted or busy, that’s how you slip up and they win 

– when in doubt never ever give out personal information, especially your Social Insurance Number (SIN)

– call the CRA directly to confirm the validity. Say something like, “I’m very busy at the moment, but will call you back by end of the day.” That way you’ve initiated contact, and the problem should be listed on your file

– ask lots and lots of questions, they don’t like that

– the scammer will be skilled on the phone, they’ll sound smooth, almost too-smooth

– CRA emails will never contain any links, nor will they contain personal information

– listen to your gut, it’s the best defence in these scenarios

See the CRA website for more details on scams.

As always in suspicious scenarios, be wary of clicking on links in an email, and if you must, expand the URL before clicking.

Test yourself here – Spot the phishing email

Blog tag = phishing




Never Call when This Happens

Kind’ve clever eh: a real-sounding URL, “Support for Apple”, and a toll-free number, how nice for someone else to foot the bill.

The Attack

Pop-up window appears > you call the number > whomever answers is skilled with words > you’re tricked (social engineered) into doing something stupid, like providing a password or downloading a malicious file.

The Defence

Never call. This will never happen.


See also: You’ll never win a contest via text