Robin joins us a third time to discuss a very hot topic on how to create amazingly strong connections as a social engineer.
The initial steps of lowering an individual’s guard by being non-threatening and gift giving was discussed in the last two postings. Once a Social Engineer recognizes that they have effectively lowered an individual’s guard, they will utilize their selected elicitation theme and chosen technique. Nonverbal openness is the best indicator that the individual’s guard is down (Navarro, 2008). A slight head tilt, palms up, and subtle eyebrow flashes are just a few open gestures an individual can make to appear non-threatening. The theme selected will reinforce the “safe” environment that the SE has created. It can often be a topic such as a spouse’s birthday or anniversary. Utilizing these types of themes lets the other individual know that there is no romantic motive for the dialogue, thus keeping the targets guard down. This theme is also very effective because it will be a natural lead into the elicitation technique of flattery and sympathy. Additionally, this theme can easily play on the human characteristic of wanting to share an opinion and be an authority (Nolan, 1999).
When we left our story in the last posting, Steve had just given up his overhead bin space on the aircraft for John. Steve had taken out his own bag and brought it up to the flight attendant to check for him. When Steve returned to his seat, John stood up, smiled and offered his hand as he thanked him for the gracious act.
Steve was demonstrating non-threatening behavior by having his head tilted slightly to the side and a pleasant smile. He displayed his openness with ventral-displays in his clothing, such as open collar and slightly cuffed sleeves. Whenever John or a flight attendant regarded or addressed Steve, he gave affirmative head nods and eyebrow flashes to further demonstrate his nonthreatening demeanor (Navarro, 2008). Steve also was exercising reciprocal altruism or “gift giving”. John felt secure and had a desire to return the earlier kindness of Steve (Burnham & Phelan, 2001).
Making a Connection
John introduced himself and the man replied that his name was Steve. Steve went on to say that it wasn’t a big deal. Steve commented that John looked like he was on his way to an important business meeting and probably didn’t have time to wait on his bags. John offered that he was and again thanked Steve. Steve offered that he had recently gotten out of the military and had developed the ability to identify the most important people in a crowd. John replied that he didn’t necessarily think he was all that important, but thanked him anyway. John thought to himself, what a really great guy. After they settled down and prepared for takeoff, John thanked Steve for his service to the country. John went on to offer that he worked for a defense contractor as well and tried to do his part for the country. Steve replied, “Thank you for helping keep my friends and I equipped to stay alive.” John was beaming with pride inside with that last comment. He was really going to enjoy this flight.
Steve’s comments were by design. He used the opportunity to give a bit of information about himself to begin building a connection through a common background, the military and service to the country. Steve also used the elicitation technique of “quid-pro-quo” to elicit the fact that John worked for a defense contractor. Steve needed to verify he had the correct target, without asking direct and alerting questions that would raise John’s guard.
Building the Non-Threatening Elicitation Theme
Following the aircraft’s climb to a safe altitude, both men took out their laptop computers and placed them on their tray tables side by side. John opened up the material for his meetings with the new potential client and Steve began going through photos of his children. Because of Steve’s assistance and validation, John felt compelled to compliment Steve on the photos of his children. Steve thanked John. John went on to explain that his children were a little bit older than Steve’s. Steve inquired, “Any advice, you seem like a good father?” John beamed with pride as he described his parenting experiences and coaching his children in sports when they were younger.
A clever SE knows the target’s background and can capitalize on topics such as family. Building a connection through children is very powerful and effective. Steve uses one of the characteristics of an effective SE when he down-plays his own strengths as a parent in order to build John’s. Steve put his own ego aside in order to validate John’s. Steve also moved onto the topic of children after he had elicited the more sensitive bit of information regarding John’s employment. A SE will move in and out of sensitive topics rapidly, so as not to be alerting.
Intentional Misstatements Lead to Information
John took a break from sharing his parenting knowledge with Steve when the flight attendant came by to ask for their drink order. Following their beverage, John excused himself and went to the rest room. When he returned, Steve offered him some hand sanitizer after taking some for himself. John gladly accepted the gift. The two watched the on-board movie and laughed at the same scenes. Following the movie Steve asked John where he was heading. John, feeling very comfortable with Steve, informed him that he was on his way to the West coast to attend a conference and make a presentation to a potential client. Steve nodded with a smile and informed John he was heading to the same conference. Steve added the hotel he was staying at. John was amazed and excited as he added that it was his hotel also. Steve said that he was going to the conference in hopes of finding a company he could do business with. Steve said to John, “The name of the company you’re pitching doesn’t happen to be “X” is it?” John said no it wasn’t, and corrected him with the company he was pitching.
Steve took his time pacing out the dialogue, then prior to going for a bit of information, he again offered the gift of hand sanitizer. The simple action kept John’s guard down. Steve was under instructions to ascertain what company John was attempting to do business with as well as the contract bid amount. If Steve was able to find out the salary of someone in John’s position he would receive a bonus as well. Steve made an intentional misstatement about the company he was interviewing and guessing it was the same one John was trying to do business with. John corrected Steve and provided the company name. A social engineer will make intentional misstatements and look for their targets to correct them. This is a very clever technique for eliciting information without asking direct and alerting questions such as, “Who are you going to make the business proposal to?” That statement would raise the guard of John and he would most likely shut down the dialogue.
Intentional Misstatements and the Bracketing Technique
Steve was obviously impressed and suggested that John must be a top executive to be making such an important proposal. Steve offered the salary range that he assumed John made between and offered that he hoped he would one day have that kind of responsibility. John blushed slightly and corrected Steve with his correct salary amount. Steve still seemed very impressed and that made John feel better.
Bracketing is a very effective technique when coupled with the need for people to correct others. When Steve makes the intentional bracketing misstatement, he was using flattery, as well as the other two techniques to ascertain the critical information. Steve again never asked any direct alerting questions and will move the conversation quickly back to safe and comfortable topics of family.
Tips: Interpersonal Social Engineers are masters of being non-threatening and discussing safe and validating topics. When having discussions, especially with strangers, if you find yourself feeling exceptionally good about the conversation, ask yourself why. Try in your everyday life not to correct others when they make statements you don’t necessarily agree with. This practice will help arm you against this technique being used proactively against you with strangers and social engineers.
The dialogue suggested here has worked on countless occasions. When you put the theories we are discussing here into practice, you will be amazed at the results.
Next week’s posting will demonstrate how Steve elicits the bid amount and makes plans for continued contact.
Burnham, T., & Phelan, J. (2001). Mean genes: From sex to money to food: taming our primal instincts. New York, NY: Penguine.
Navarro, J. (2008). What every body is saying: an ex-FBI agents guide to speed reading people. New York, NY: Harper Paperbacks
Nolan, J. (1999). Confidential: Business secrets – getting theirs, keeping yours. New york, NY: Yardley – Chambers.
Robin Dreeke, a 1992 graduate of the United States Naval Academy and former US Marine Corps Officer, has been studying interpersonal relations for the past 23 years of his government service. Through the use of non-verbal behavior; the Personal DISCernment Inventory, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator and personal anchoring, Robin has built highly effective tools for all aspects and stages of interpersonal communication. For the past thirteen+ years Robin has applied and taught his tools and techniques for the FBI as a member of the Counterintelligence Division’s elite Behavioral Analysis Program. Robin has combined all these tools and techniques and created a very unique, People Formula.
Today Robin is a recognized expert, author, and gifted lecturer, in the art of interpersonal communication. These skills are used every day in the areas of leadership, sales, human resources and all relationships both business and personal.