Countering Social Engineering: Another Lesson from Star Trek

Last week, we began looking at what we can learn about countering social engineering and elicitation from Star Trek.  We based our learning on a scene from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  We included a short edited clip of the scene in the last article.

Remember Your Shields

Last time our focus was on shields.  Captain Kirk and his crew knew the importance of their shields.  They understood shields were necessary to protect their starship from the effects of enemy weapons.  We also must understand the value of using shields to protect ourselves.  Not from starship weapons, but from the weapons of intelligence collectors.  Our shields are vigilance and awareness.  When we keep our shields up, we remain aware of others using techniques to elicit, influence, and/or manipulate us.  Check out last week’s article if you want to know more about using shields in countering social engineering.

Warp Speed is Your Friend

By the end of the scene, Captain Kirk realizes the perilous position he and his crew is in.  They must get away…get far away and fast.  He contacts his Chief Engineer Scotty of the ship communication system. Kirk informs him, “We need warp speed in three minutes or we’re all dead.”  Kirk understood that there are times when warp speed is your only answer.  Sometimes, you have no other choice but to get away and get away far and fast.

Photo credit: x-ray delta one via / CC BY-NC-SA

The same is true for counter-elicitation and countering social engineering.  We need to remind ourselves that many information collectors are very good at what they do.  They may not be a genetically engineered superhuman like Khan, but some have elicitation skills so successful they seem superhuman.   In this case, a little humility goes a long way. This reminds me of an important point I always share with my students when I teach elicitation and counter-elicitation.  When it comes to these two aspects of advanced communication, you must suspend your ego.  In counter-elicitation, the goal is to protect the information you have from disclosure.  You need not win a battle of wits with an intelligent collector.  As long as sensitive information stays protected, you win.
There are times when the best defense is just to get away.  So, if you detect a potential elicitation attempt, excuse yourself from the conversation.  Afterwards, it is often a good idea to leave.  If we control our shields and remain vigilant, we can identify an attempt to elicit information from us.  We will discuss a few specific tips in later articles.  We do not need reveal anything about our motive for leaving…just leave.  This way, if we are wrong, we really have lost nothing.  When it comes to protecting sensitive information, it is better safe than sorry.
After you activate warp speed to get away from a potential elicitation attempt, there is one more thing to do.  Report the elicitation attempt to someone.  Even Captain Kirk did this.  He kept a log that would one day be provided to Starfleet Command.  Tell someone from security or other appropriate department/organization about the attempt.  Remember as much as you can about the person and what specifically he/she said to you.  Sharing your experience can raise awareness of the threat.  This can help others make good decisions about protecting sensitive information from intelligence collectors.

Even Kirk had a Crew

Here is a bonus tip for counter-elicitation from Star Trek.  In Star Trek, the Starship Enterprise’s five-year mission was to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.  While the Enterprise often went where no man had gone before, Captain Kirk was not alone.  He had a crew with him.
If we want to increase our ability to ward off elicitation attempts, we should consider taking a crew along.  Our crew may only be one additional person.  Even one person helps.  The old adage, two heads are better than one, applies to counter-elicitation.  Sometimes we may not pick up an elicitation attempt on our own.  Our crew member, who is not the primary target of the attempt, may see what we miss.  They may be the key to advising us it is time to active warp speed and leave.  Remember, sometimes you may be the crew member who warns someone else.


So, we have covered three tips for counter-elicitation, compliments of the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

  • Remember to control your shields.
  • Be prepared to activate warp speed and leave the area when necessary.
  • Consider taking your crew with you as you boldly go wherever you go…particularly when you go to areas where intelligence collectors may go.

We will continue looking at elicitation and social engineering in future posts.  If you want to ensure you get them, sign up for updates.
Don’t be an easy target for elicitation.  Be prepared to use warp speed to get you away from a social engineering attempt.  You will be better able to identify such elicitation attempts if you remember to be swift to hear and slow to speak.
Photo credit: JD Hancock via / CC BY

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