Many people probably don’t think about the concept of obligation being an aspect of influence. However, what is obligation? Typically, it’s a feeling based on norms, morals, even manners and roles we play in life. These feelings will often spur action. If we accidentally bump into someone, we feel we should apologize as a polite member of society. Or, as a spouse or parent, we will (hopefully) feel compelled to look after our family members.

How is this relevant to social engineers?

We regularly see obligation used as an instrument of influence. Think about how connections are made in social media. Receiving an invitation to “friend” someone or connect professionally usually creates a need to respond and social media sites use this to rapidly grow their networks. Or how often have you accepted a flier from someone just because it was offered to you? Most people feel like it’s rude not to accept. It’s the nature of humans as social beings as well as how we’ve been taught to behave.

How is obligation exploited?

A recent and heinous example is the grandparent scam. Conmen posing as the grandchildren of seniors have scammed them out of millions of dollars, relying in part on their feelings of obligation as grandparents. “You don’t want any harm to your grandchild” as one man reported.

Understanding just how strong feelings of obligation can be and how they affect decision making is a critical skill for social engineers. We talk about this and the other aspects of influence in our 5-Day Advanced Practical Social Engineering class.

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