One can sum up a= ll of Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking in two sentences from page 297, where author Christopher Hadnagy wr= ites “tools are an important aspect of social engineering, but they do not make = the social engineer. A tool alone is useless; but the knowledge of how to leverage and utilize that tool is inva= luable”. Far too many people think that informa= tion security and data protection is simply about running tools, without understanding how to use them. In = this tremendous book, Hadnagy shows how crucial the human element is within information security.
With that, Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking is a fascinating and engrossing book on an important topic. The author takes the reader on a vast j= ourney of the many aspects of social engineering. Since social engineering is such a people oriented topic, a large pa= rt of the book is dedicated to sociological and psychological topics. This is an important area, as far too m= any technology books focus on the hardware and software elements, completely ig= noring the people element. The social eng= ineer can then use that gap to their advantage.
By the time that= you start chapter 2 on page 23, it is abundantly clear that the author knows wh= at he is talking about. This is in st= ark contrast with How To Become The Worlds No. 1 Hacker, where t= hat author uses plagiarism to try to weave a tale of being the world’s greatest= security expert. Here, Hadnagy uses his real knowledge and experience to take the reader on a long and engaging ride on = the subject. Coming in at 9 chapters and 360 pages, the author brings an encyclopedic knowledge and dishes it out in every chapter.
Two of the most popular books to date on social engineering to date have been Kevin Mitnick= ’s The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security and The Art of Intrusion: The Real Stories Behind the Exploits of Hacker= s, Intruders and Deceivers. The difference between those books and = Hadnagy, is that Mitnick for the most part details the events and stories around the attacks; while Hadnagy details the myriad specifics on how to carry out the= social engineering attack.
The book digs de= ep and details how the social engineer needs to use a formal context for the attack, and breaks down the specific details and line-items on how to execu= te on that. That approach is much more suited to performing social engineering, than simply reading about social engineering.
Chapter 1 goes t= hough the necessary introduction to the topic, with chapter 2 detailing the vario= us aspects of information gathering. = Once I started reading, it was hard to put the book down.
Social engineeri= ng is often misportrayed as the art of asking a question or two and then gaini= ng root access. In chapter 3 on elicitation, the author details th= e reality of the requirements on how to carefully and cautiously elicit information f= rom the target. Elicitation is not som= ething for the social engineer alone, even the US Department of Homeland Security = has a pamphlet that is uses to assist agents with elicitation.=
After elicitatio= n, chapter 4 details the art of pretexting, which is when an attacker creates = an invented scenario to use to extract information from the victim.=
Chapter 5 on min= d tricks starts getting into the psychological element of social engineering. The author details topics such as micro= expressions, modes of thinking, interrogation, neuro-linguistic programming and more.
Chapter 6 is on = influence and the power of persuasion. The a= uthor notes that people are trained from a young age in nearly every culture to listen to and respect authority. W= hen the social engineer takes on that role, it becomes a most powerful tool; far more powerful than any script or piece of software.
The author wisely waits until chapter 7 to discuss software tools used during a social engineering engagement. One of the author’s favorite and most powerful tools is Maltego, which is an open source intelligence and forensics application. While the author concludes that it is t= he human element that is the most powerful, and that a great tool in the hand = of a novice is worthless; the other side is that good tools (of which the author lists many), in the hands of an experienced social engineer, is an extremely powerful and often overwhelming combination.
Every chapter in= the book is superb, but chapter 9 – Pre= vention and Mitigation stands out. Aft= er spending 338 pages about how to use social engineering; chapter 9 details t= he steps a firm must put in place to ensure they do not become a victim of a social engineering attack. The chapter li= sts the following six steps that must be executed upon:
Learning to identify social engineering attacks=
Creating a personal security awareness program
Creating awareness of the value of the informat= ion that is being sought by social engineers
Keeping software updated
Learning from social engineering audits
The author astut= ely notes that security awareness is not about 45- or 90-minute programs that o= nly occur annually; rather it is about creating a culture and set of information security standards that each person in the organization is committed to usi= ng their entire life. This is definit= ely not a small undertaking. Firms must create awareness and security engineering programs to deal with the above s= ix items. If they do not, they are th= em placing themselves at significant risk of being unable to effectively deal = with social network attacks.
As to awareness,= if nothing else, Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking demonstrates the importance of ensuring that social engineering is = an integral part of an information security awareness program. This can’t be underemphasized as even t= he definitive book on security awareness Managing an Information Security and Privacy Awareness and Training Program only has about 10 pages on social engineering attacks.
There are plenty= of security books on hardware, software, certification and more. Those were perhaps the easy ones to write. Until now, very few have de= alt with the human element, and the costs associated with ignoring that have be= en devastating. Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking is a book that is a long time in coming, but worth every page.
While seemingly geared to the information security staff, this is a book should be read by everyone, whether they are in technology or not. Social engineering is not something tha= t just occurs behind a keyboard. Social attackers know that. It is about t= ime everyone else did also.