Defending Against Social Engineering on Social Media

In the world today, many of us use social media.  We like to share information about ourselves with friends and acquaintances. It is fun to share our lives with people with whom we might otherwise have limited contact.
Cybercriminals, however, see social media as opportunity. They seek to take advantage of unsuspecting people, who might share a little too much. They use this information as leverage against them.  In a recent article posted at ZDNet, the author provides a couple of example scenarios.  Someone might use various techniques to develop a relationship with someone online.  Their aim may be the eventual exchange of explicit dialog or images.  These are later used to extort money from the unsuspecting person.
These approaches are not unlike what we do in Intelligent Communication.  Intelligent communicators listen carefully to others.  They listen to develop information that will enable them be more influential.  This increased persuasiveness contributes to achieving their goals for their interpersonal interactions.

Social Engineering and Narcissism

It also appears that social engineers may have a new favorite target: narcissists. In the article referenced above, the author quotes cyber security consultant Dr. Jessica Barker.  She reports “A trait we’ve increasingly seen social engineers take advantage of is narcissism.” This is not surprising for two key reasons.
First of all, narcissism in our society seems to be increasing. Researchers at San Diego State University and the University of South Alabama call it an epidemic. This means there is a large number of these lucrative targets available to social engineers. Many of those identified as more narcissistic are the same people who tend to  share a lot of information on social media.
Additionally, those who are more narcissistic are also more vulnerable to a favorite social engineering tactic.  This tactic is flattery.  Of course, it is not just narcissists who like compliments.  We all from time to time are suckers for flattery.  Everyone can be susceptible to flattery at times.  We all should be wary of being drawn into a cybercriminal’s plot by way of a well-timed and well-placed compliment.

Defense Against Felonious Flattery

Think and Feel Steps

We recommend applying Intelligent Communication and the Smart Talk model to your online communication.  These can help us avoid falling victim to attacks on our narcissistic tendencies.  Focus on the Thinking and Feeling component of the model.  Listen carefully to those who engage you on social media. Think through their posts and messages. Develop competing hypotheses about what they could mean. We need not be victims to those who use flattery for nefarious reasons. We can enjoy social media without being taken advantage of by cybercriminals.
Exercise feeling along with thinking on these posts and messages. Consider what might be going on in the writer’s mind. Exercising feeling might also trigger a gut response to the post. That might be your intuition speaking to us. You would be wise to listen.  Intuition is often an insight from a past experience that is not quite in our consciousness at the time. Going through these steps can help you identify flattery.  You expose it for what it often is: an attempt to gain trust to open us up for further influence techniques. Only after listening, thinking, and feeling are you prepared to plan a response. Be open to the option that the response is no response at all.
Would you like to read more about Intelligent Communication and Smart Talk?  Select “communication model” in the tag list in the right sidebar.

Tips for Defending Against Flattery in Social Engineering

  • Communicate intelligently. Apply Intelligent Communication and the Smart Talk model in your online/social media communication.
  • Suspend your ego. This is as much an important defensive skill as it is an offensive skill for those who use communication in social engineering.
  • Be a skeptic. Applying a little healthy skepticism helps us develop competing hypotheses during Thinking and Feeling.
  • Keep Your Shields Up. When speaking about maintaining our defenses during interactions with others, I frequently describe a defensive posture as “shields up.” Any instance of flattery should be a trigger for a “shields up” response. Make this a rule for your social media use.
  • Phone a friend. We can sometimes be blind to experienced communicators using flattery. Sometimes a friend can offer a more objective point of view.

Good communication is vital for good relationships. We can still participate in online communication and social media so long as we maintain a proper defense against those who would seek to take advantage of us.  If you would like more information on good communication practices, contact me here.
Be swift to hear and slow to speak.
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