Subliminal Hacking
The Art and Science of Social Engineering


March 25, 2010

Influence.. Decision and Deception

Influence, this is a term we are all familiar with, and influencing skills are something many of us use everyday. This post is going to look at the benefit and utilisation skills that can be used day to day, and in the context of social engineering and the other skills we have already discussed, and will continue to touch on moving forward.

Wikipedia Definition – Social influence occurs when an individuals thoughts or actions are affected by other people. Social influence takes many forms and can be seen in conformity, socialization, peer pressure, obedience, leadership, persuasion, sales, and marketing. Harvard psychologist, Herbert Kelman identified three broad varieties of social influence.

  1. Compliance is when people appear to agree with others, but actually keep their dissenting opinions private.
  2. Identification is when people are influenced by someone who is liked and respected, such as a famous celebrity or a favorite uncle.
  3. Internalization is when people accept a belief or behavior and agree both publicly and privately.

Morton Deutsch and Harold Gerard described two psychological needs that lead humans to conform to the expectations of others. These include our need to be right (informational social influence), and our need to be liked (normative social influence).Informational influence is an influence to accept information from another as evidence about reality. Informational influence comes into play when people are uncertain, either because stimuli are intrinsically ambiguous or because there is social disagreement. Normative influence is an influence to conform to the positive expectations of others. In terms of Kelman’s typology, normative influence leads to public compliance, whereas informational influence leads to private acceptance.

Influence can take many forms. Someone can be considered influential based on their position, their perception of knowledge, people they know and are associated with, how they behave, what they say and do, as well as how they present themselves.

I will start with presentation. This is probably obvious, but we immediately judge people by their appearance. First impressions are important, so we need to be mindful of wearing appropriate clothing for the environment we are in, or looking to infiltrate. If a company has people casually dressed, and you turn up in a suit, you will stand out like a sore thumb, and will attract attention. There is a balance to be had here, as someone smartly dressed can also represent a position of authority, so it is key to do your homework. There are subtleties when dressing that can also contribute influence. Interesting research has shown that smartness and colour of shoes, as well as tie colour can make a large difference in the perception of influence. We are are familiar with the joke of power suit, power tie, but it really is true. On the opposite side, a female could wear smart clothing, but is slightly revealing, or particularly flattering. This may attract attention (which has its place in certain circumstances), however the focus will be on attractiveness of the individual, not on the quality and value of the information being communicated, and essentially the patterns being used to facilitate influence will be ignored and go unoticed.

Communicating influence is something that is very common as it can be done on the phone and in person. Being familiar with a companies lingo, and key industry terms will resonate with the individual you are communicating with. They will believe / assume you are a person with knowledge and know how, this will lead to a position of influence. NLP patterns can be utilised when communicating to create focus on a sentence, ensure notice is taken of positives and not negatives, and bring someone around to your way of speaking. We will look at NLP patterns in the future. A hypnotist also uses influence both in body language and communication to facilitate buy in, and bring someone around to facilitate hypnotic experiences. Research has shown positioning can also have an impact on having what you say accepted and actioned upon. The left side of the brain is used for making decisions, and research has shown that speaking on the right side of an individual (so audio is received via the right ear) can lead to an increased chance in your communication being fully received and processed, and a decision being made in your favour.

Influence by association is something that can be of great use when a social engineer. When communicating dropping a name in can result in people not wanting to question your activities, as they do not want to trouble or disturb the individual of importance, and perhaps you are important and influential also as there is some association. This can also be achieved just by tail gating people of importance. I am sure if you give this some thought, you can think of the obvious scenarios where this will work, perhaps you would introduce yourself and create rapport outside of the office your looking to infiltrate, perhaps you can do it rapidly on the bus, train or elevator.

I have tried not to ramble to much in this post, but hopefully you get the idea. Having influential skills can obviously help influence people, but also build rapport, meet more people, and more valuable friends and associates. These are skills essential to a social engineer, as fitting in, getting people to do things for you, and help and facilitate are essential, and can make your life easier, and increase chances of success.

In my experience successful social engineers, come across as friendly, and confident people. This may or not be the reality, but its what is communicated that is essential for building a perception, and elevating from there. Consider what the individual you are looking to influence are interested in, dangle the appropriate worm to meet your objective. The point here is, to influence others we need to focus on their desires, to meet / get ours. Its all about perception.

Take note of peoples behaviour you consider to be influential. Examine how they carry themselves, mannerisms, vocabulary used, and the general presence. Different things work for different people, so you need to try things out for yourself. We will look at patterns, and mirroring in the future that can assist with getting people onside, and leading to influence.

Bullying, pushing, sarcastic complimanty comments may facilitate results, however I dont believe they will give long term results, this is something to be mindful of.

As ever I welcome feedback, and suggestions for content you would like to see, and information you would like to share.

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    About the Author

    Dale Pearson
    has worked in IT since 1998, Infosec since 2004, and studied and performed hypnosis, mentalism etc since 2009. Dale is a full time Red Teamer with a love of social engineering and qualified hypnotherapist. He spends a great deal of time researching the various skills and techniques that make up the art and science of Social Engineering.

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