Browsing Livingstone Undergraduate Research Awards by Subject "Pretexting"
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An Examination in Social Engineering: The Susceptibility of Disclosing Private Security Information in College StudentsWhile security technology can be nearly impenetrable, the people behind the computer screens are often easily manipulated, which makes the human factor the biggest threat to cybersecurity. This study examined whether college students disclosed private information about themselves, and what type of information they shared. The study utilized pretexting, in which attackers impersonate individuals in certain roles and often involves extensive research to ensure credibility. The goal of pretexting is to create situations where individuals feel safe releasing information that they otherwise might not. The pretexts used for this study were based on the natural inclination to help, where people tend to want to help those in need, and reciprocity, where people tend to return favors given to them. Participants (N=51) answered survey questions that they thought were for a good cause or that would result in a reward. This survey asked for increasingly sensitive information that could be used maliciously to gain access to identification, passwords, or security questions. Upon completing the survey, participants were debriefed on the true nature of the study and were interviewed about why they were willing to share information via the survey. Some of the most commonly skipped questions included “Student ID number” and “What is your mother’s maiden name?”. General themes identified from the interviews included the importance of similarities between the researcher and the subject, the researcher’s adherence to the character role, the subject’s awareness of question sensitivity, and the overall differences between online and offline disclosure. Findings suggest that college students are more likely to disclose private information if the attacker shares a similar trait with the target or if the attacker adheres to the character role they are impersonating. Additionally, this study sheds light on the research limitations, emphasizes the relevance of the human factor in security and privacy, and offers recommendations for future research.