Counter-Elicitation: Interrupt Their Process

I am continuing my look into countering elicitation and social engineering.  Recently, I shared a few lessons from the crew of Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise.  Today, I will return to our own atmosphere to look at another concept.  We are bringing together a number of tools to help us avoid becoming victims of intelligence collectors and social engineers trying to elicit sensitive information from us.
Elicitation is not a simple process. Social engineering experts cannot just recite a few magic words like an incantation. They cannot just say “open sesame” to loosen the lips of their targets. Most elicitors use a few common techniques to achieve success. Further, this type of collection normally follows a process. The process leads the elicitor from targeting to properly closing the conversation. The elicitation process is designed to accomplish two important objectives. It seeks to maximize the potential for success in collecting the desired information. It also wants to minimize the risk of exposure.

Breaking into Their OODA Loop

In order to defeat elicitation attempts, we must stop or inhibit the elicitation process. Some might say, get inside their OODA Loop. The OODA Loop is a concept developed by Air Force Colonel John Boyd for decision making. It has been since adapted into many applications in both the military and the business world. The concept was originally developed for use in air combat. It facilitates quick decision making in rapidly changing situations.  The OODA Loop consists of a four-step decision-making cycle.  These steps are observe, orient, decide, and act.  Here is a brief description of each step:

OODA Loop and Countering Elicitation
Image from MindTools

  • Observe – collect current information from multiple sources.
  • Orient – analyze this information, and update your understanding of the situation.
  • Decide – determine a course of action.
  • Act – follow through on your decision.

Some versions of the OODA Loop process are quite complex. In its basic form, it is a simple and flexible guide to effective decision making. The OODA loop process is not a static linear step-by-step process. It is more a continuous guide to decision making. This contributes to flexibility in decision making. It also leads to rapid processing and effective decision making.

Elicitors’ OODA Loop

Intelligent collectors and social engineers have something in common with combat pilots. As they try to elicit information from an unwitting source, they are in a fluid environment. The relationship between the elicitor and the target may change frequently and rapidly. The elicitor must think on his/her feet. They must analyze their target quickly. They must then respond correctly to succeed in getting the information they want.
Elicitors will work through their own OODA Loop during the elicitation process. They observe you closely to assess aspects of your personality and identify vulnerabilities. They use this information to consider their options. Then, they decide how to approach you and engage you in a conversation. Additionally, they choose specific techniques designed to achieve their elicitation goals.  They will choose the best course of action based on their observation, orientation, and past experience. Finally, they act. They execute their elicitation plan. Throughout the process, they continue working through the OODA loop process. As they do, they adapt to your responses and behavior.

Counter-Elicitation and the OODA Loop

Smart Talk Model of Communication
Smart Talk Model

Successful counter-elicitation interrupts the elicitation somewhere along the OODA loop process. How do we do that? We use a similar OODA Loop process. We observe the actions of those with whom we interact. Then, we orient ourselves into the situation we are in and assess the elicitation threat. This helps us to decide what defensive posture to adopt. We then select which countermeasures to apply based on our assessments. Finally, we apply these countermeasures and adapt our behavior in a way consistent with our decision.
This process is an easy one to apply for those trained in Intelligent Communication. Like other communication best practices, the Smart Talk model integrates OODA processes. Intelligent Communicators do the OODA steps while they Think & Feel and Say & Do. The observe process is analogous to the Smart Talk Listen step. The Think and Feel steps include activities associated with the orient step. Smart Talk’s Plan step covers the decide step of the OODA process. Finally, Intelligent Communicators Say & Do, like OODA Loop practitioners act. Smart Talk model has one key benefit. We can use the same model to guide us using a variety of communication and interpersonal relationship techniques. If you would like to know more about the Smart Talk model, check out my free email course.  (Note: If the course is not available, check back.  I am currently updating it.)  If you think you and your organization might benefit from Intelligent Communication training, contact me.
Don’t be an easy target for elicitation.  Remember the foundational advice to help you counter elicitation attempts is to be swift to hear and slow to speak.
Photo credit: ARTS_fox1fire via / CC BY-NC-ND

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