Patching the End User: How to Recognize the Social Engineering In Scams

Scammers use psychological manipulation to defraud their victims, so it is extremely useful to be able to identify the social engineering elements in online scams.

If you can recognize the social engineering taking place in some of today’s scams, you can better protect yourself and avoid scams that you have never heard of.

Think of this as a heuristic detection for your mind.

One of the most accurate descriptions of what Social Engineering is, in the context of scams, comes to us courtesy of Wikipedia. Of this, the most salient point is this: “It differs from traditional cons in that often the attack is a mere step in a more complex fraud scheme.”

This step, this “push,” is what is simultaneously the most powerful aspect, and the greatest weakness, in these types of scams. It is what will convince the victim to ignore common sense, but also what will make the whole elaborate lie collapse, if recognized for what it is.

The Law Enforcement Scam:

One of the more common online scam, the law enforcement fine scam begins during the course of a browsing session, a flurry of pop-ups, some pornographic in nature, overtake the machine.

Simultaneously, malware is delivered via a web drive-by. Once installed, it will reboot the victim’s computer. The normal boot process is interrupted by a warning, alerting the user that they have been detected by the local law enforcement in the commission of a crime.

To unlock the computer, directions are given to pay a fine for the offense.

What are the social engineering aspects at play here?

Fear. The user fears having committed a crime. He or she knows that there is now pornographic material on the computer and that it is potentially illegal in nature. Fear is one of the most common motivators used in pushing the victim.

Urgency. Access to the computer will not be returned until the user pays the fine.

Convenience. The fine is $100 to $400, an amount often referred to as the impulse buy. It is low enough to be paid out to solve the inconvenience of the lockout, without much thought.


No law enforcement agencies ever collect fines such as what is being described above. See and for more details.
Screenshot of FBI Malware

The fear, urgency and convenience are being employed to try and obscure the fact that law enforcement would never resort to an online currency system, such as uKash or moneypak to collect a fine.

The Microsoft Tech Support Scam:

Here is a quick synopsis:

A call is placed from a call center pretending to be from Microsoft and instructs the victim to open the event viewer and locate red errors. These are claimed to be virus infections.

The reason often given for this unrequested call from Microsoft is that your machine is somehow participating in malicious activities and infecting other machines. Instructions are given to allow a remote technician to connect to the computer and fix the problem. Having fixed a nonexistent problem, a pitch is made for the sale of a support plan or application.

What are the social engineering aspects at play here?

Fear. Fear of being infected, of losing your personal data and of being liable for damage caused to other computers.

Authority. The caller assumes the identity of a Microsoft support technician. Microsoft employees are expected to be very knowledgeable, and from the perspective of an end user, carry a lot of authority.

Confidence. The caller assumes control of the interaction. Instructions are clear, concise, and leave little or no room for interpretation. Commands are issued with confidence. You can tell this person has done this many, many times before.

Urgency. Your computer is infecting other machines. You need to deal with this issue right away. It is important enough that you cannot afford to ignore this.

Familiarity. The event viewer presents its data in a very familiar way. There is a progression from the informational in blue, the warning in yellow, and the error in red. This isn’t a coincidence, and you only have to look at the results from a legitimate security product to see the similarities.


Microsoft will never call you unless you have initiated a process with them. They state this:

“Microsoft does not make unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer.” See this article for details.

This particular scam is very well crafted, and detecting it as such, without prior knowledge of Microsoft products and proficiency with computers, is extremely difficult, because everything looks plausible. In this case, the large sums being asked for the support contracts should be what raise alarm. The preferred payment method, Paypal, might also be cause for pause.

While this advice may sound trite and overused, I have regretted it every time I have chosen to ignore it: Trust your gut feeling. Does the interaction feel just a bit off? Is there just a little too much urgency? More often than not, these are valuable clues that something is amiss.

Once you start looking at these interactions with greater scrutiny, you can see some constants. Fear is commonly used, and money is requested. As soon as both of these are involved in an interaction, regardless of how legitimate it may appear, I treat it as suspicious.

Final thoughts

When online, over electronic communications, and on the phone, a dose of skepticism is always a good thing. Fear and urgency are often used to cloud the potential victim’s judgment. Be wary of problems that require an immediate outlay of cash to be solved.

New scams are emerging every day. Criminals have seen the effectiveness of a well-crafted social engineering scam and we can only expect an increase of these types of threats. Better understanding of the social engineering aspects at play will help prepare you if you encounter new scams.

If you are interested in finding out more about how social engineering techniques can be used to devastating effect, you can read Ghost in the Wires. These are the memoirs of Kevin Mitnick, probably the most famous social engineering expert.

The Next Big Thing?

Lenovo Tiny M72e

There is a lot of talk today about systems getting smaller, thinner and lighter. Tablets have become the norm for consuming content. Customers like them because they can go anywhere, they have long battery life and are easy to use. Can’t really argue with a tablet as a content consumption device.

As of late even more buzz seems to be building regarding a new class of Ultrabooks. The main draw of this segment is again, the thin and light chassis and the ability to go anywhere.

So where does that leave the humble Desktop? For customers who don’t have $1500 to spend on an ultrabook; who have employees that need to create and consume content, but don’t necessarily need to be “mobile” where do they go? Well, we don’t stop innovating on any of our product lines, whether it is a Notebook, an Ultrabook, a Tablet, or even a Desktop. So for this summer we’ve introduced the new Lenovo M72e Tiny!

The M72e Tiny is Lenovo’s first 1 liter desktop form factor. Think about that for a minute….1 liter. That’s 7” tall, 7” deep and less than 2” wide. The entire system weighs less than 3 lbs! Lighter than a standard notebook. For where space is at a premium this is a great alternative that no one else has. Education, Healthcare, Hospitality, Retail, are all great markets for our new M72e Tiny offering. Tiny works any place where desk or counter space is at a premium. If you want to mount it to a cart, in a closet or even under a desk, Tiny is small enough to fit anywhere.

For customers that want to mount Tiny to a desk or a wall, it comes with a mount bracket that supports that capability. The mount doubles as a VESA mount, allowing mounting on the back of most monitors and flat screen televisions!
We’re excited to bring this offering to you and want to make sure you have the chance to see it in action first-hand as there’s really nothing else like it on the market. This system is available now, and will be in stock in the store by next week.

A Year From Now Support for Windows XP Ends, Now What?

Reposted from

 A Year From Now Support for Windows XP Ends, Now What?

If your business is still running Windows XP, now is the time to upgrade to a modern OS.

In 2001, Windows XP was launched, and went on to become Microsoft’s most popular operating system of its time, aiding consumers and business users to be more productive and secure as high-speed Internet became ubiquitous at work and eventually in our homes. It’s no question that Windows XP was an outstanding operating system to meet the needs of customers more than a decade ago.

Nearly 12 years later, technology has evolved leaps and bounds, along with the needs and expectations of those who use it. Modern businesses now have an increasing need to protect their data and ensure security, compliance and manageability. Meanwhile, modern users demand technologies that fit their personal work style and allow them to stay productive anytime, anywhere on a variety of devices.

This natural evolution of technology is what is at the heart of our product lifecycle policy. A year from now will mark the final milestone for Windows XP – that of its end of support date. Starting April 8, 2014, Microsoft will no longer provide support for Windows XP users. This means that customers and partners will no longer receive security updates to the operating system or be able to leverage tech support from Microsoft after this time.

Moving away from Windows XP to a more modern platform in Windows 7 and Windows 8 will ready your IT infrastructure for future technology solutions and growth of your company.

Windows 8 is the modern OS for modern businesses, building on Windows 7 fundamentals like speed, reliability and security, while creating a modern platform designed for a new generation of hardware options. With an ever-increasing lineup of devices, from notebooks, tablets, desktops, touch or type, there is now more choice than ever before with a device to fit the specific needs and unique scenarios of businesses of any size.

Customers worldwide see the opportunity to take advantage of a modern operating system to support security and compliance requirements, while utilizing the latest technology from Microsoft to address the need for increased mobility. Companies from BT PLC, Emirates Airlines, Seton Hall University and Toyota Racing Developmentmoved beyond XP to Windows 7 and are deploying Windows 8 to support their unique mobility business needs, and value Windows 8 for its support for touch-based computing in particular.

NOW is the time to move to a more modern Windows operating system and modernize your IT infrastructure.

Businesses still running Windows XP are missing out on the tangible benefits of modernizing their IT investments from dramatically enhanced security, broad device choice to meet the needs of a mobile workforce, higher employee productivity and lower cost of ownership by future-proofing their IT investments.

Recognizing that not all situations are alike, businesses may need to take different approachesto their operating system migrations due to the specific needs of their environment. For some, moving their full company to Windows 8 will be the best choice, and for others it may be migrating first to Windows 7. Still, for many, it will be deploying Windows 8 side-by-side with Windows 7 for key scenarios, such as Windows 8 tablets for mobile users.

And as businesses plan to purchase new devices as part of their Windows XP migration process, they should consider user scenarios where their company will benefit from having employees use touch devices – whether it is tablets, laptops with touch capabilities, all-in-ones, or other innovative devices. This way, companies conducting hardware refresh cycles can benefit from higher productivity of its users in the immediate term, while ensuring that they are modernizing an increasingly higher proportion of their installed PCs with touch capabilities – readying their business for the future Windows platform migrations.

Don’t put your business at risk.

While end of support for Windows XP is still one year away, the migration process can take some time and may be costlier the longer you stayon Windows XP, ultimately putting your business at risk. The security landscape is ever-changing and new threats are coming to fruition every day, so it is critical that businesses ensure they protect their data and IP against the latest threats by deploying a modern Windows platform.

Many companies of all sizes have either already made the switch off of Windows XP, or are in the process of migrating over to Windows 7 and Windows 8, enabling them to realize greater possibilities for their business using technology that simply wasn’t possible in 2001. Those that haven’t yet started their migration process need to begin as soon as possible to ensure that they meet the April 8, 2014 deadline.

There are many tools, resources and best practices available, making migration easier than you may think.
Windows Deployment Guidance
Accelerate programs – Jumpstart PoCs & Pilots and other deployment resources
Springboard Series on TechNet

And if you are a small or medium sized business currently running Windows XP Professional PCs, you can upgrade to Windows 8 Pro and Office Standard 2013 at a 15% discount now through June 30 as part of Microsoft’s Get2Modern offer. This offer is only available on up to 100 licenses each of Windows 8 Pro and Office 2013 Standard editions.