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Pretexting: How to avoid social engineering scams

Expert Nick Lewis explains how to keep call center employees from getting duped by social engineering scams and pretexting.

As a call center manager, I'm worried that our agents could be duped by social engineering attacks like GoDaddy...

was recently. We just don't have the budget for security training for our agents, but what can we emphasize internally to identify phone phishing?

The social engineering scam on GoDaddy was part of a multistep attack to steal Naoki Hiroshima's valuable @N Twitter handle. The attacker started by calling the provider of Hiroshima's personal domain name (GoDaddy) and, using information he had collected prior, tricked the employee into redirecting the target's emails to the attacker. While the attacker didn't have all of the data needed to prove he or she was the legitimate account holder, the support person allowed the attacker to guess some of the information and was duped into believing the hacker. Once the email was redirected, the attacker used a password reset to gain access to Twitter and other accounts which would be used as part of the extortion.

The method the attacker used with the GoDaddy employee is called pretexting. Pretexting received a lot of attention when a corporate investigation at Hewlett-Packard Co. went awry in 2006. CNN offered a number of tips following the investigation that are still applicable today and can also protect a call center employee from being duped.

Perhaps the easiest additional control enterprises can put in place to limit access to an account would be to require a password from the customer prior to making any account changes. Employees should also be instructed to not give out any information (including not telling callers what was wrong with the requested data). Properly training call center employees is critical. While it may be costly, this could pale in comparison to the potential expense of lost customers or negative press.

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This was last published in July 2014

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