Dealing with Guilt as a Social Engineer

By November 16, 2020November 23rd, 2020General, Pentesting, SE

guilt as social engineer

Are you new to the field of social engineering? Or does this career interest you? If so, dealing with guilt as a social engineer will be something you will  need to learn how to do. Doing so will enable you to continue making progress professionally without feeling emotionally exhausted.  Guilt is defined as committing a conscious offense along with experiencing feelings of deserving blame for the offense. It is a human emotion that can move you to action or paralyze you. There are different types of guilt. You may feel guilty after eating greasy fast food or for having lied to a person you love.

Have you ever felt guilty about lying to strangers? Vishing is a part of the job of a social engineer. Vishing is “the practice of eliciting information or attempting to influence action via the telephone.” It involves having a conversation with a person and building rapport to persuade him/her to reveal personal information. This act of deception can leave many (not all) social engineers feeling guilty and emotionally drained at the end of the day. In view of this, here are some ways to combat the guilty feelings that may result from vishing.

The Dilemma

A rookie social engineer went over her pretexts for the day. And, as she took a deep breath, she told herself she was ready to make her vishing calls. After getting a few voicemails, finally someone answered the phone. Her heart was beating fast as she pushed through her pretext, only to face a dilemma.

The target informed the social engineer that her sister just passed away and she was busy with the funeral arrangements. In that moment, a decision had to be made. Would she continue with the pretext and obtain the target’s personal information? Or would she have mercy on the target? In a split second she thought: “A malicious actor would have no such mercy.” Being immersed in her role, she continued to persuade the target to provide personal information which she obtained. At the end of the call, she could hardly believe she had just “taken advantage” of someone in a very vulnerable state. She could now feel guilt weighing her down.

The inexperienced social engineer turned to her teammates and expressed her guilt. She was reassured that she did the right thing by continuing with the call and obtaining the target’s information. She was reminded that she was an actor.  As a social engineer, she was providing valuable training to the target which could make him/her safer. Feeling guilt is a sign that you have a conscience and are sensitive to the feelings of others. However, it should not leave you feeling emotionally drained at the end of your workday. Thankfully, there are steps social engineers can take to remedy the feeling of excessive guilt.

Reframing

Part of the guilt in vishing, results from feeling that you are deceiving people and betraying their trust. How can you ease the pain of guilt by reframing? It has been said that “an actor is a fantastic liar while a liar is a fantastic actor.” While acting and lying may have some similarities, the real difference lies in the intent. In acting, a person pretends he/she is the character they are portraying. In this case, the actor has no intent of deceiving a person to cause them harm or defraud them in any way. Lying, however, involves a deliberate false statement with the intent to deceive or defraud a person to their detriment. In social engineering we act like the bad guys, but never become them. We are actors, our intent is to train and improve the security of the individuals and corporations we work with.

How to De-Role

According to ScienceDaily.com, de-roling is described as “taking roles off after rehearsals (or performance) so that actors and actresses can come back to themselves.” When we are vishing, we become our character to perform our job successfully. But how do we come out of it? We can start by writing a short profile on our characters. We can describe our character’s physical appearance, their favorite food and even what car they drive. Also, we can have a specific item of clothing or a prop that we wear only when we are vishing. At the start of our day we can go over character and put on that item that is particular to that role. At the end of the day, we can verbally say goodbye to our character and take off the item in connection to the “performance.”

In this way we put a character to rest. According to performing arts scholar Mark Seton, another helpful exercise is to do some stretches and shake off your character as it were. Doing this will help you leave behind your role along with the feelings associated with it.

Start with the End in Mind

As you start the day, remember that your goal as an ethical social engineer is to “assist our clients to better protect their organizations and assets through education and preparation.” Our aim is that our acting through vishing calls, will leave the target better equipped to handle a malicious attack. So, when you feel guilt creeping up, take a deep breath and remember, “We make people more secure, not only to the benefit of their employers, but also in their lives.”

When Dealing with Guilt as a Social Engineer — Always Remember

When you start feeling mentally and emotionally drained as a social engineer, make sure to take a break and share your feelings with colleagues who understand your frustrations. Always remember that you are an actor, and your goal is to assess the security of a corporation by testing and training their employees. By doing this, you not only help to protect the business that contracted your services, but you also get to train and protect the person you come in contact with. Also remember, feeling a measure of guilt at times is a good thing. It means that you have empathy and in the words of the Chief Human Hacker, Chris Hadnagy – ”an empathetic social engineer is a better social engineer.”

Sources
https://www.social-engineer.org/newsletter/social-engineer-newsletter-vol-09-issue-116//
https://www.social-engineer.org/framework/attack-vectors/vishing/
https://www.differencebetween.com/difference-between-acting-and-vs-lying/#:~:text=The%20only%20difference%20is%20that,to%20see%20the%20actor%20lying.
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140605140011.htm
https://theconversation.com/out-of-character-how-acting-puts-a-mental-strain-on-performers-86212/
https://www.social-engineer.com/about/
https://www.social-engineer.com/social-engineer-team/colin-hadnagy/

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https://www.themuse.com/advice/4-reasons-you-should-stop-feeling-guilty-about-leaving-your-job/