Blog | Apr 22, 2015

Notes from RSA 2015: social engineering - so easy, even a 9-year-old can do it!

We know the hazard that human users pose to network security. Even as technology has advanced in sophistication, attack rates have continued to rise. In spite of the complex defenses that you've built to protect your network, odds are a human user will ultimately click a malicious email link.

At eSentire we talk a lot about social engineering. Everyone at the RSA Conference is talking about social engineering, too. And rightfully so! The worrisome spike in complex targeted threats like phishing or watering hole attacks continues to grow at an alarming rate. At eSentire we regard user/employee training as a fundamental component within any organization's cybersecurity framework. Equally important is the vigilance required to always look for the hallmarks of a phishing email.

At RSAC 2015, the risk of social engineering never became more clear than at an intriguing keynote session featuring a bright and charismatic 9-year-old named Reuben Paul. Reuben represents the next generation of security professionals. Even at 9 years old, he’s an overachiever. Reuben is a programming whiz and acts as CEO for his own educational software games company called Prudent Games. Reuben joined Christofer Hoff, VP and Security CTO at Juniper Networks on stage to demonstrate just how easy social engineering is. In a five minute demonstration, he proved that he, a 9-year-old whiz-kid could hack a user account. And if Reuben could do it, what does that mean for someone twice his age?

On RSAC's exhibition floor, eSentire is challenging visitors to a phishing email test. The timed challenge asks players to study a suspect email. Once they’ve timed out, they select a number of indicators that told them that the email was a phishing attempt. Every participant receives a grade, and on this, the third day of the conference, only 1% of participants have scored 100%.

The point here is that social engineering is becoming commonplace. It represents the single fastest growing threat facing consumers and businesses alike and has already proved incredibly effective, as is evidenced by the monumental corporate breach stories of 2014.

While social engineering has been a popular topic at RSA, equally popular is the concept of cybersecurity hygiene. At the root of proactive hygienic practice is always education. It’s of critical importance that every individual understands what data is important to our business and the mechanisms that we’re using to defend that data. Employees need to recognize that they too are a security mechanism and must understand the vigilance required to defend their business from the fastest rising threat in the cyber world. Because as we’re quickly learning, complex cyber threats are not child’s play.

Mandy Bachus

Mandy Bachus

Director of Corporate Communications

Mandy leads a team of savvy communicators who continually strive to interpret to share thought provoking news and resources with the InfoSec community.