What Star Trek Can Teach About Countering Social Engineering

Have you ever seen the old Star Trek movie,  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  While I’m not a really huge fan of Star Trek, I do like this movie.  I particularly like Ricardo Montalban as Khan.  He makes a great villain.  Khan is not much like the friendly wish-granting Mr. Rourke Montalban played on the show Fantasy Island which was on TV at the same time this movie came out.

What I also like about this movie is what it illustrates about counter-elicitation.  Some time ago, I was updating material for my elicitation and counter-elicitation training course.  I was considering ways to illustrate some of the points I was making, particularly about counter-elicitation.  A scene from The Wrath of Khan came to mind.  I found a clip of the scene and edited it to show to my students.

I know what you’re thinking.  Yeah, that was a good movie…I wonder if Netflix has it?  After you check your Netflix account and find out that it is available on DVD but not to stream, you may begin to wonder about what it teaches about countering elicitation and social engineering.  I will share two tips we learn from Khan’s battle with James T. Kirk.  We will consider the first tip in this article.  I will cover the second tip in a follow-up article soon.

The Importance of Shields

The first lesson is to remember the importance of shields.  In the scene above, we hear about shields twice.  The first is the announcement that Khan’s attack is causing the shields on Kirk’s ship to collapse.  This makes Kirk vulnerable to additional attacks.  The second mention is that the few shots Kirk could fire back at Khan will not be effective against Khan’s shields.

When it comes to counter-elicitation, our shields are our vigilance…our awareness of potential attempts by others to elicit, influence, or otherwise manipulate us into revealing something or doing something we should not.  Just like on a starship, maintaining our shields requires energy.  Keeping our shields up constantly is exhausting.  We all look for opportunities where we can lower our shields and relax.

I have trained a lot of military personnel over the years.  They understand this idea.  When deployed in a hostile environment, they need to be constantly vigilant in watching for threats all around them.  This takes a great deal of energy.  They all look forward to getting back to a base camp or other safe zone that provides them the opportunity to relax and lower their shields.

Elicitation and Shields

Intelligence collectors, whether they work for a foreign country or a competing company, as well as identity thieves understand the idea of shields.  They know it is very difficult to elicit information from someone while their shields are up.  They also know that one wrong move might arouse suspicion in their target.  This could result in the target raising his shields.  A “shields up” response most often ends the elicitation attempt, at least for a time.

Good elicitors/social engineers will seek opportunities to target people while their shields are down.  It is not uncommon for elicitation attempts to take place in bars.  Bars are often favorite locations for people who want to relax and put down their shields.  Elicitors are aware of this.  They also know that alcohol can help dull the senses of their target.  People under the influence of alcohol are less likely to identify an elicitation attempt.  Further, they are less inhibited and may more easily reveal information they would otherwise not reveal.

Elicitors will also use rapport building techniques to lower shields and keep them down.   They use rapport to make them appear more attractive and get others to like them more.   Ultimately, they are trying to build some level of trust between them and the target.   As trust builds, shields are lowered.  The target becomes vulnerable to the intelligent collector’s elicitation techniques.

Control Your Shields

The solution is to this threat is to control your shields.  The first step in shield control is understanding that maintaining them takes a lot of energy.  If you believe your situation makes you a likely target for elicitation, you need to find safe opportunities to lower your shields and recharge.  These times are generally when you are in a location free from potential threats and when you are in the company of friends and colleagues.    If you know you may be in a location where you may be targeted, make sure you get some rest prior to putting yourself in that situation.   When you believe your energy levels are low, avoid situations where you might be targeted.  Finally, avoid imbibing too much alcohol at times when you might be vulnerable.  Don’t make it any easier for elicitors.

So, Star Trek counter-elicitation/counter-social engineering tip #1 is control your shields.  Like in the scene above, the weaponry of the intelligence collector will not be enough against shields.  In our next blog article, we will share a second counter-elicitation tip from The Wrath of Khan.  If you don’t want to miss this article, you can sign up for our newsletter and we’ll send you all our recently published articles twice each month.  If you want to learn more about elicitation and counter-elicitation, contact me.

Don’t be an easy target for elicitation.  Keep your shields up and remain vigilant.  As you do, remember to be swift to hear and slow to speak.

rjm

Photo by JD Hancock

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