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Everything You Wanted to Know about Social Engineering -- But Were Afraid to Ask...

How to Keep from Getting Suckered by Social Engineers

There are several basic techniques that you can use to spot a social engineer at work. I use all of them

The Journalist's Approach

Here's how a good journalist might try to separate fact from social engineering, and how you can evaluate what a journalist might write.

  • Does the reporter cite specific people and organizations? If not, get suspicious. If he or she does cite sources, you can always look up written material or phone the people in the story and find out for yourself.
  • Look up other articles on the same story. A web search will get fast results. Your local library probably carries many newspapers and news magazines.
  • What is the reputation of the publication? On the web, lack of advertising might tell you that a given site may be too small to take seriously, or that no reputable advertiser will associate itself with the site. If you buy a newspaper at the checkout line of a supermarket, it is probably a "tabloid." Tabloids have even lower standards of journalistic integrity than Sprenger or Penenberg.
  • Is the reporter highly emotional? OK, OK, what I've written right here is emotional, but I'm doing this just to entertain you readers! Honest! Seriously, you should apply extra caution when reading highly entertaining, emotionally charged material, including mine. And, OK, I admit it, I have a bias against Penenberg because he has done some reporting against me that I consider false and malicious.
  • Which brings up the next point. Is there a hidden reason someone would write something that is, if true, damaging to another person? Penenberg and I both are trying to sell a book in which Martin plays a key role. Does this mean you shouldn't trust what Penenberg says about me and I say about him? You bet! Martin, Levy and Space Rogue each run web sites that compete against Antionline. Does this mean you shouldn't automatically trust what any one of these web sites may say against the others? You bet!
  • How about the reputation of the reporter and the people in the news story?
  • What if a news story passes all the above tests? It cites sources, and you even go so far as to check up on them yourself? It runs in some highly respected newspaper such as the New York Times. Every other news story seems to agree with it. The reporter writes in a dispassionate, "just the facts, Ma'am" tone. He or she has no history of feuding with the target of the story. Does this mean it is true? I don't know about you, but I would still try to keep an open mind. It does happen that a false story gets into the news, only to be revealed as phony many years later. The FBI assault on the Waco compound of the Branch Davidians comes to mind.

More on social engineering --->

Back to the index of "Everything You Wanted to Know About Social Engineering -- But Were Afraid to Ask --->

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