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RE: Penetration Testing - Human Factor
From: "Paul Melson" <pmelson () gmail com>
Date: Mon, 21 Aug 2006 16:50:06 -0400

-----Original Message-----
Subject: Penetration Testing - Human Factor

As a thorough sceptic Id like to conclude in most cases of a TRUE hacking
incident social engineering 
has been a factor of success for the malicious user attacking a system.

My experience has been just the opposite, but I do allow for the possibility
that you've got some movie-plot notion of what constitutes a "TRUE hacking

Most of the hacking incidents that I've encountered have fallen into one of
the following categories.  

A) The system was connected to the Internet and inadequately hardened or
protected by a firewall.  

B) There was a previously unknown vulnerability that an attacker exploited
(think web-app stuff as opposed to kr () d lee+ 0dayz).  

C) The system compromise began with a benignly-intentioned user behaving
badly (installing rogue software, opening attachments from strangers, etc.)

I do acknowledge that the third scenario may involve some elements of social
engineering, but it was always used in conjunction with malicious code of
some sort.  I have never investigated an attack, nor have I heard of an
actual live attack, in which someone with access to sensitive information
gave up their password to a hacker.  So while they probably happen, they are
also probably not "most cases". 

Social engineering (aka "a con") isn't as attractive a means of attacking
computers as it would seem.  In my experience, most focused and targeted
attacks involve some degree of an insider element.  In these cases, social
engineering may not be necessary - the insider often has some or all of the
privileges necessary to access sensitive systems.  In more random attacks,
social engineering is time-consuming and risky.

    For quite a while now I have been compiling methodology on the
assessment of the weak human security 
link which can be exploited through social engineering. Has anyone got any
thoughts they would like to 
share or guidelines to the audit of the human factor when security is

Any information is much apreciated.

Yes, any assessment of an organization's vulnerability to social engineering
attacks must be audited against the organization's controls, specifically
procedural controls.  If an organization lacks said controls, an assessment
is meaningless - it should be assumed that social engineering will
eventually be successful.  Once that requirement has been met, you can
assess how often procedure is followed and, if it is followed sufficiently,
how effective it is.


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