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Firewalls, anti-virus, and intrusion detection systems can protect you from many things threatening you information security. What about your employees? Can they be easily locked down? The quick answer is no. The human element is the weakest link, and the following story is no exception.

While performing a social engineering attack, we were given a list of users to impersonate. The goal was to retrieve passwords verbally for either email or a website. On the site, I noticed that if your account was locked you could get a PIN from IT to unlock it.

I placed a call to the IT department using a spoofed number and made sure the IT person, we’ll call him Joe, knew I was pressed for time. I told him I needed a PIN because my account was locked and he asked me for my name first. The person I was impersonating had a difficult name to spell, but I attempted to spell it for him and made a little joke about how difficult the name was to spell. Joe chuckled a bit and said he could send the PIN to my voicemail.

I told Joe I was calling from my mobile phone and did’t have access to my voicemail at the moment. I reminded him that I really needed to get my PIN quickly so I could log-in and asked what my options were. Joe said that if I verified the employee number he could give the PIN to me over the phone. I told him I would have to look for it and to hold for a minute.

After thinking about what to do next, I figured all was lost. So I decided to have a little bit of fun first. After about a minute, I picked the call back up and said, “Okay, I got it. It is MS08-067.”

There was a brief pause and Joe said, “Your new password is _____.”

I was stunned and I did’t think he was being serious until I logged in successfully. I told him thank you and how much I appreciated his help. From there, I continued accessing everything that I could log-in to and retrieved corporate email, social security numbers, pay rates, and gained access to the employee database. While Joe probably felt pretty good about helping me, I was helping myself to all of his co-workers’ and corporate information.

Experience teaches us that it is human nature to want to help someone in need. We all aspire to be a hero of sorts. It may be just helping out that person on the phone, or holding a door open for someone with their hands full. Just keep in mind that while your intentions may be good, theirs may not be.

Education is very important. Teach your employees it is okay to question others. People who believe that they ca’t be social engineered most likely have already fallen to victim to it.

How do YOU protect yourself?