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Hacking or unauthorized access to accounts can be of two types. The first is the one that would involve password cracking tools, but most organizations have cyber security features in place to prevent these attacks, however, it’s the second type of attack that can cripple any organization or person’s accounts and databases; this is a social engineering attack.

Social engineers are criminals who take advantage of human behaviour to pull off an online scam or hacking attack. Successful social engineers are confident and in control of the situation completely.

There can be two techniques used by social engineers. One is of simple observation and another is of proactive effort.

In the first case, the social engineer simply observes a person’s social networking profiles, linkedin profiles and all data available about him. Most people have passwords that they can easily remember, and for that they have to be words closely related to them. People share their lives on social networking, where their date of birth, favourite colour, pet’s name and everything possibly related to them is freely available. It’s pretty easy to guess passwords in such a scenario. It’s always advisable to be discrete with respect to the data shared on social media. Such data is also collected by the online questionnaires and market research forms that people request to fill in public places.

In the second case, the attack is pre-planned and complete checklist is made of the person or companies likes, dislikes, passions, hobbies and professional credentials. Then the second stage of physical access comes into the picture. For example, three income tax officials turn up at your office for an inspection along with relevant badges and check all your office computers and all your documents, and in the process lodge key loggers into your computers, whereby they will receive an email of every key stroke made on the computers, thereby giving out your passwords and confidential data.

An example of this kind of attack would be where a social engineer researches about a person let’s say Mr. A, and knows that this person is fond of foreign holidays. The social engineer then calls up this person as the authorized representative from a reputed travel agency and offers a mind-blowing holiday package. He asks the Mr. A the version of PDF reader he is using on his laptop. The conversation is very friendly and inspires trust in the mind of Mr. A. The social engineer sends the holiday proposal in a PDF format which is not compatible with the PDF reader installed by Mr. A, and along with the proposal sends a compatible PDF reader for Mr. A to download and read the proposal. The PDF reader has malware attached that gives the social engineer access into Mr. A’s computer.

Another example of this type of attack would be where a very pretty woman, who is a journalist, goes to meet the System Administrator of a big company, to get his opinion on cyber security. She flirts a lot with him and after taking his opinion leaves, but “accidently” leaves her pen drive with him. A beautiful woman who flirted with this guy definitely would make him curious about her and he accesses her pen drive to know more about her. Only that the pen drive is infected with key logger and Trojan malware, thereby making the company’s networks very vulnerable.

The 4 basic principles which most social engineers follow are:

i. They project confidence. They do not sneak around and they proactively approach people and draw attention towards themselves.

ii. They give you something. Probably just a small favor which creates trust and a perception of indebtedness.

iii. They use humor as that is one tool which is endearing and disarming.

iv. They make a request and offer a reason and research shows people are likely to respond to any reasoned request.

Attacks by social engineering are offences in India under Section 43 of the Information Technology Act, 2000. This section reads as under:

Penalty and compensation for damage to computer, computer system, etc. -If any person without permission of the owner or any other person who is incharge of a computer, computer system or computer network,-

(a) accesses or secures access to such computer, computer system or computer networkor computer resource;

(b) downloads, copies or extracts any data, computer data base or information from such computer, computer system or computer network including information or data held or stored in any removable storage medium;

(c) introduces or causes to be introduced any computer contaminant or computer virus into any computer, computer system or computer network;

(d) damages or causes to be damaged any computer, computer system or computer network, data, computer data base or any other programmes residing in such computer, computer system or computer network;

(e) disrupts or causes disruption of any computer, computer system or computer network;

(f) denies or causes the denial of access to any person authorised to access any computer, computer system or computer network by any means;

(g) provides any assistance to any person to facilitate access to a computer, computer system or computer network in contravention of the provisions of this Act, rules or regulations made thereunder;

(h) charges the services availed of by a person to the account of another person by tampering with or manipulating any computer, computer system, or computer network,

(i) destroys, deletes or alters any information residing in a computer resource or diminishes its value or utility or affects it injuriously by any means;

-he shall be liable to pay damages by way of compensation to the person so affected.

A victim is required to make a Complaint in the prescribed format along with the applicable fees to The Adjudicating Officer, Information Technology Act, 2000. The fees are calculated in accordance with the damages claimed. Under the provisions of the Rules for conduct of Adjudicating Proceedings under the Information Technology Act, 2000, the Adjudicating officer shall decide every application in 4 months and the whole matter in 6 months.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute legal advice. It is merely the expression of the legal opinion of the author on this subject matter.

Advocate Puneet Bhasin,

Cyber Law Expert, Cyberjure Legal Consulting



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