#SoG110 - Social Engineering

#SoG 110. Social Engineering

I missed yesterday's letter. I am not happy about it - I was in some flight that took off late and landed late and all that. But in the flight, something interesting happened. I was seated on the middle seat and was requested by someone to exchange seats with them (because she wanted to sit next to her husband that was on the window seat in my row). Since I was alone, I complied. In exchange, I got a better seat with more legroom and all that. But it made me think about our behaviour in public settings. And I was reminded of this thing that we called Social Engineering.

Wikipedia defines it as "psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information."

In simple words, it essentially means using small hacks to get ahead. Consider any of the following...

  1. You are in a long queue that is moving slower than a tortoise. After an hour-long wait, you are finally the second in the line and a young man comes up to you and says that she's feeling dizzy and if she could go before you. What do you do?

  2. You are at a traffic signal in your car. A street urchin comes up and starts to clean your car without you asking him to do it. He does a thorough job at it and then stands next to your window with a look of expectations in his eyes. What do you do?

  3. A young guy wearing a white robe with a Stethoscope comes up to you and asks you for a small loan. Who do you think he is? What does he want from you?

All these are examples of subtle manipulations that ride on our cognitive biases and makes us do things that we would normally not do. Things that you would frown at!

The best place to learn about these social manipulations is by reading Robert Cialdini's work. He says that there are 6 distinct "principles" that govern our actions (and thus manipulations). These are

  1. Reciprocity. You do unto others what they do to you. Someone comes and cleans your car and you feel compelled to give him the money.

  2. Commitment and consistency. You want to "appear" consistent. You say that you support the environment and you are then willing to pay extra, even if you are unable to afford, to keep that reputation.

  3. Social proof. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. You

  4. Authority. Never question an authority figure. A guy dressed like an aircraft pilot would look daunting and command automatic respect.

  5. Liking. Birds of a feather flock together. You goto a different country and you will seek comfort in the company of strangers that are from your religion / race etc.

  6. Scarcity. FOMO. YOLO. Etc. You know how they say, "only 5 slots left?"

I learnt about these for the first time in Prof. Bakshi's classes at MDI (You MUST read everything he writes - see Prof. Sanjay Bakshi's website and #SoG54).

The other great resource to learn about social engineering is to track the life of Kevin Mitnick. He would use social engineering to gain access to secure servers.

Yet another place to see this social engineering in action is at the altars of street magicians, mentalists, doomsday sayers, fortune tellers, tarot card readers, energy healers, pick-up artists, motivational speakers, life coaches, actors, socialites, brokers, car (and insurance) salespeople, jesters, poets, shamans and others. They claim that they can read "energies" and all that. But then who would tell them about the random walk and who would tell the unsuspecting target audience about social engineering? You and me, of course!

Lesson for you?
1. Look out for people, things, brands, businesses that are trying to get you to do things that you would otherwise not do. Start by making a list of things that you would normally not do. And are compelled to.

2. What can you do to not get affected by these "tricks"?

3. What social engineering trick can you use to drive the desired behaviour from your "target"?

And, in the end,
This may border on an ethical and moral dilemma for an aam aadmi but then, are you aam? Do you wish to remain aam?

Thank you for reading,
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Streak: 1
Tags: Social Engineering, Kevin Mitnick, Robert Cialdini, Influence, Power

Social Engineering is very close to my heart and I sincerly wish I had a few more tricks up my sleeve. All it requires is practise and consistency - the two things that I dont have patience for. Maybe once I have made some money in life to not chase it on a day to day basis, I will probably work on this :)

Further Reads

PS: I missed the letter yesterday - was stuck with work and then had a flight that got delayed.
PPS: I am adding another tracked in these emails. Inspired by , I will try and make a streak that I hope I dont break.