Subliminal Hacking
The Art and Science of Social Engineering


February 5, 2013

Attention Manipulation Techniques … Natural Buffer Overflows

A key part of being a Social Engineer is being able to create yourself windows of opportunity. These may be to distract peoples attention whilst you slip past a door, pull some keys from a key cabinet, acquire an access card from a pocket and many more. Of course to achieve any of these things you can simply give it a go, cross your fingers and do your thing. Sure you might get lucky, but this is a more opportunistic approach, I would recommend you pop off your social hat for a moment and donned your engineering helmet. What do I mean? Well look to understand how we can manipulate someones attention, from both the science and artistic perspective.

What I am about to say may seem obvious, and in many ways it is, but when you are in the moment that awesome brain of yours goes primal and you forget the simple unless is something you have printed it in via establish learning and muscle memory, i.e. doing it lots and lots, so you dont need to think about it. Remember when you were learning to drive, the practice of approaching a roundabout, signalling, turning and changing gear resulted in a stalled vehicle and horns blaring all over the shop. This crap is impossible you though. Established learning now means you can do all of the above, speak on your mobile, check yourself out in the rearview mirror, smoke a cigarette whilst carefully resting a hot coffee between your legs.


I digress 😀 So this information is built from books I have read, but more importantly actually doing different things to prove they work and establish them as part of a built in skillset. Obviously on the job Social Engineering gigs give you this, but they are not always the best time to try them out, which is where my other past time of mentalism, hypnosis and more recently pickpocketing (all in the frame of entertainment) help and provides opportunity for me to learn and develop these skills.

People can be manipulated as there are two types of attention processed by the brain. There is ‘Top Down Attention’ and ‘Bottom Up Attention’.

  • Top Down Attention is classified as decision making attention. If I ask you to look down at your hands now, you are consciously making a decision to perform that action. This action uses the Prefrontal Cortex which is highly developed in humans for complex decision making.
  • Bottom Up Attention is when something grabs focus of your attention. A simple example of this is when someone calls your name, or a phone rings with your ringtone. You are drawn automatically to investigate and verify if you are the focus. This action uses a more primitive part of the brain known as the Sensory Cortices. In these regions of the brain unexpected stimulas are quickly routed in the brain to grab your focus, presumably to stop us being eaten by a lion back in the day 😀

Combine this with the fact that our brains really do have limited focus, such as only being able to remember 5 or so concurrent activities at a time we create a situation, that even if you are aware of how its done you just cant protect against as its just how our brain functions. Combine this with congruency to build up some yes sets

So next time you are trying misdirect someones attention consider the above. When you ask ask someone for the time (Top Down Attention) drop a silver coin on the floor to roll away (Bottom Up Attention) creating a small window of opportunity that you can exploit to possibly gain access to that ID Badge, or view the combination codes written on that pad.

Happy Social Engineering!

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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.


    1. Troy

      What books have your or do you recommend on learning more about awareness, and or focus of the mind?

    2. Dale

      I need to get some more time to update this page, but check out the resources page for recommended reading –

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