The Social Engineering Framework

The Social Engineering Framework is a searchable information resource for people wishing to learn more about the psychological, physical and historical aspects of social engineering. Please use the index below to find a topic that interests you.

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Penetration Testers

NOTE: The information contained in this article is intended for use during a professional pen testing audit and should never be used to perform illegal acts. Each reader will need to be aware of their locations legal boundaries in regards to the tactics mentioned within.

A penetration tester is a person who tests for vulnerabilities or unauthorized access to systems. Penetration testing (also called pen testing) is the practice of testing a computer system, network, web application or onsite perimeter to find vulnerabilities that a malicious attacker could exploit.


Pen Testing and Social Engineering

Companies with authentication processes, firewalls, VPNs, and network monitoring software are still wide open to an attack if an employee unwittingly gives away key information. Social engineering is the human side of testing for corporate network vulnerabilities. Penetration testers employ multiple tactics to test their targets. By means of phishing, vishing, and impersonation a pen tester will mimic attacks that a malicious social engineer would use to attempt a system breach. Depending on the scope of work, penetration testers may also seek employment at the target company. The sole objective while employed for the target company is to maintain their pretext and elicit information.


Pen Testing and Phishing

Many companies will spend thousands of dollars on IDS systems, firewalls and other protection devices to monitor the network. However, all it takes is one skilled phishing attack to potentially devastate a company.

According to a recent report In Verizon’s Data Breach Digest, researchers found that 90 percent of data-loss incidents have a phishing or social engineering component. This alarming statistic underscores the value of incorporating “the human side” in penetration testing.


In March, 2017, Barricuda released a report on a phishing email targeting corporate travelers that had a 90% success rate. As reported by Barracuda, these phishing emails were well-researched and specifically prepared for the target. For example, the airline, destination, and price were carefully selected so that these details looked legitimate in the context of the company and the recipient. There are two variants to the attacks — one type drops data-stealing malware. The second type attempts to steal credentials by including links to a phishing website designed to imitate an airline website or the expense/travel system used by the targeted company. With the stolen credentials the attacker will then try to infiltrate the corporate network and internal company systems.


For the pen tester, thorough internet “snooping” is indispensable. The most innocuous information can be useful in a potential pen test. A great deal can be learned about likes, dislikes, interests and family connections by utilizing social media profiles such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Spokeo is also a valuable resource as it provides thorough online profiles. Equipped with such information, an email can be crafted that appeals specifically to the individual. Emails that appeal to a sense of urgency or fear are also very effective. Subject lines that include messages such as “error”, “account closed”, or “warning” urge the recipient to act before thinking.

Penetration testers (or pen testers), primarily use phishing for three different purposes. First, as part of a pen test which usually leads to a controlled compromise of the organization’s digital or human network. Exposed vulnerabilities are reported in detail to allow the organization to strengthen their security. Second, as part of a security awareness program throughout the year that is focused on educating users on the different levels of phishing. Third, to set a baseline for assessing user susceptibility to phishing attacks and to justify future training on the topic.


Pen Testing and Vishing

Vishing also commonly known as voice phishing or phone elicitation, is a rapidly growing social engineering attack vector. Vishing attempts are difficult to monitor and trace, and attackers are increasingly leveraging this mechanism to extract information and compromise organizations. Employees in customer service, sales and HR departments are highly vulnerable to these types of attacks.


In August, 2017, The Boulder Valley School District found themselves the victims of a vishing scam that stole $850,000 in bond construction money. Equipped with publicly available information regarding contracts between the school district and Adolfson and Peterson Construction Company; the attacker called the school districts’ accounts payable department pretexting as an employee of the construction company. The attacker requested that the school district change the way Adolfoson and Peterson was paid. The accounts payable department complied with the request, and began sending payments to a fraudulent bank account. The school district did not become aware of the theft until they started to receive late payment notices from the genuine Adolfson and Peterson Construction Company. The Boulder Valley School District has since added safeguards after falling victim to this devastating vishing scam.


Equipment Needed For Vishing
1. Phone Line. – Land line, cellular phone, burner phone, VoIP (internet phone)
2. Spoofing technology – software, service or self served.
3. Pretext – Know whom you are impersonating so well that you are comfortable conversing and answering questions.
4. Flag/goals– Know what information you need to obtain and the questions you can ask to elicit that information.

Security Consultants, Chris Hadnagy, CEO and Michele Fincher, COO of Social-Engineer, LLC demonstrate how this attack vector can be implemented.

“Watch as Michele Fincher, COO of Social-Engineer, LLC pwns the identity of CBC News’ Asha Tomilson live at DEF CON 24”

Pen testers primarily use vishing for the following purposes. First, simulated attacks are an effective way to assess vulnerabilities. Second, extensive reporting provides actionable data about employee responses to various vishing attack scenarios. Third, ability to identify which departments or employees are most susceptible. Fourth, based on results from vishing assessment, develop a continuous assessment and training process to successfully combat vishing attacks.

Pen Testing and Impersonation

The impersonation of a delivery person is an effective vector for a pen tester to utilize for two basic reasons. First, not much acting is involved. Second, wearing a uniform or some type of company logo engenders trust. If you have been hired to conduct a security audit and need to get equipment into a building, such as a jail broken iPod, it is one of the best ways to accomplish this.


Job Seeker Impersonates Postmates Delivery Person

Lukas Yla making a delivery. Lukas Yla

Lukas Yla making a delivery. Lukas Yla

Although there was no malicious intent with this impersonation, it illustrates how easy it is to gain entry, simply by looking the part.


A few things need to be in place first to effectively impersonate a delivery person. First, be aware of which delivery firms the company uses and their route times. Nothing could thwart your pen testing engagement more than entering your targeted building dressed as a delivery worker only to be greeted by the person who is actually doing the job. Second, it’s important to look the part. Are you planning to impersonate the local flower or pizza delivery person? Research is necessary to find out if a standard uniform is worn or not. Will you be impersonating FedEx, UPS, a mail courier or bicycle messenger? Then wearing the correct uniform and having the appropriate ID is vital.

How To Buy

UPS and FedEx uniforms can be found online at either Ebay or Craigslist. Due to the rise in crimes committing while impersonating delivery people/companies it is getting harder to locate these uniforms. Another option is to purchase an appropriate colored plain shirt and print the desired delivery company logo on it. A silk screen company might be willing to do the printing, however since the end use is for a pen testing engagement and not for legitimate business, this option is not recommended. A last option is to check out thrift stores for used shirts and uniforms. Important Note: Impersonating a United States Postal Servant is illegal. According to Title 18 US Code sec. 912, “Whoever falsely assumes or pretends to be an officer or employee acting under the authority of the United States or any department, agency or officer thereof, and acts as such, or in such pretended character demands or obtains any money, paper, document, or thing of value, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.” Because USPS impersonation is illegal, a professional pen tester should never use this vector.