Site Review – LinkedIn – Part 2
As a followup to my previous post on LinkedIn, I would like to recount a story that a friend told me the other day. I was visiting with Adam Steen of 25 Connections. Adam’s business is knowing people, and he knows pretty much everyone in the Des Moines business world. If you need a connection in this area, Adam is the guy to go to.
As with many of us in the small business world, he uses LinkedIn to help manage his contacts. However, his business is all about personal connections. This is great for his business, but does introduce a new type of attack that I had not previously considered.
Several months ago, Adam met someone who works in the financial industry. After a pleasant first meeting, he received a LinkedIn connection request. As we all do, he accepted the connection and thought no more of it. Then, last week, Adam got a call from a friend of his who informed him that this connection was using LinkedIn to call Adam’s friends and set up appointments. Of course, he accepted this appointments because the person knew Adam trusted him. After all, if Adam says someone’s good to work with, they usually are. However, Adam didn’t actually vet the connection. Instead, the attacker was using social engineering to make it appear as though he had. Once the appointment was made, Adam’s friend found himself sitting through one of the most uncomfortable high-pressure sales situation he had ever experienced.
So, how did this attack work?
First of all, it is entirely dependent on the nature of the social networking site. If the site is configured to allow your contacts to see one another, you have to consider whether the individuals to whom you are connecting are worth this level of trust.
Secondly, the attack is only useful if the connections are generally trustworthy. If Adam’s name hadn’t meant anything to the person being called, the appointment wouldn’t have been set up and the attack would have been foiled.
Third, if you have a number of close personal contacts who know you but not each other, and you use a social network that allows your friends to see one another, you may be vulnerable.
Now, in Adam’s case, he was able to identify the untrustworthy individual and remove him from his network. Since this particular variant was based on personal contact, the removal of the personal connection foils it. However, it would be trivial to make such an attack far more malicious. An attacker could forge an email from the trusted link that carries a malicious attachment or link. The target then, thinking that the message came from someone very trustworthy, would be fooled into running the code, allowing the attacker to get whatever information they wanted.
So, how do you protect yourself… and more importantly, your contacts?
Think about who you’re connecting to and if you get a request from a friend of a friend, make sure that it’s legitimate. This could be as simple as picking up the phone and calling the purported shared link. (Odds are that you don’t talk often enough anyway.) Also, if you are in the habit of connecting people to one another, try to connect them at the same time. I find that it’s easiest to send an email to yourself and copy them both on it. That way, they get one another’s address, see that you are vetting them both and you have a copy of the connecting email should you need it later. This also makes it more likely that someone who bypasses the process would be more likely to be caught, as it would seem more unusual from the start.
This may be a good time to review your contacts and make sure that they’re really what they should be.