Hacking Humans

By the CyberWire

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Each week the CyberWire’s Hacking Humans Podcast looks behind the social engineering scams, phishing schemes, and criminal exploits that are making headlines and taking a heavy toll on organizations around the world. We talk to social engineering experts, security pros, cognitive scientists, and those practiced in the arts of deception (perhaps even a magician or two). We also hear from people targeted by social engineering attacks and learn from their experiences.

Episode Date
I have been practicing honesty and truthfulness my whole life.

Followup from an Australian listener. Dave shares a Paypal scam leveraging Google ads. Joe describes TechCrunch reporting on a spam service that was left out in the open. The catch of the day promises a lifetime supply of gold. Dave interviews Asaf Cidon from Barracuda Networks 



Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.


Apr 18, 2019
Scammers have no ethics whatsoever.

Joe describes a study of people's perceptions when presented with a magic trick. Dave shares the story of fake boyfriend app. Our catch of the day involves the promise of millions from a bank in Africa. Dave interviews Chris Parker from WhatIsMyIPaddress.com.

Links to stories:



Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.

Apr 11, 2019
Girl Scouts empowering cyber security leaders.

Dave describes a survey of call center security methods. Joe explains a spam campaign raising the specter of a flu pandemic to scare people into enabling macros in an Office document. The catch of the day highlights a Facebook scammer promising a prize-winning windfall. Carole Theriault returns with a story about special badges Girls Scouts can earn for cyber security. 

Links to stories:




Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.

Apr 04, 2019
Pick a persona to match the goal.

Followup on remotely previewing websites. Joe has the story of scammer bilking Facebook and Google out of millions. Dave reviews best practices for deleting data on devices you dispose of. The catch of the day is an offer of criminal partnering with the CIA. Our guest is Jeremy N. Smith, author of the book Breaking and Entering - the extraordinary story of a hacker called Alien.

Links from today's stories:




Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.



Mar 28, 2019
Kids are a great target.

A listener recommends an online tool for safely previewing web sites. Dave shares research on what time of the work week is best for scams. Joe explains credential stuffing. Our guest is Frances Dewing, the CEO and co-founder of Rubica. They recently published a report on how crooks are accessing parents’ mobile devices via apps their kids load.


Links to stories mentioned in today's show:





Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.

Mar 21, 2019
When we rush we make bad decisions.

Joe tracks the surprising number of malicious links hosted on legit websites and why it's dangerous. Dave describes an extortion scheme targeting podcasters. Our catch of the day involves a lonely Russian woman promoting a dating site. Dave interviews Gary Noesner, author of Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator.

Links to stories mentioned in today's show:




 Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.

Mar 14, 2019
Don't assume younger people get it.

Followup on last week's TLD discussion. Dave shares a sextortion scam with a tragic ending. Joe highlights conveyance scams that rely on certain days of the week. Our catch of the day features a wealthy Londoner hoping to pass on her fortune. Guest Dale Zabriskie from Proofpoint has results from their State of the Phish report.

Links to stories:



 Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.

Mar 07, 2019
Delivering yourself to a kidnapper

Joe describes fraudsters taking advantage of top-level domain name confusion. Dave explains how a Google Nest security system shipped with an undocumented microphones. Our catch of the day involves a postcard missed package campaign. Our guest is Matt Devost from OODA LLC describing their work protecting high-net-worth individuals.

Links to today's stories:



Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.


Feb 28, 2019
Stop and think before you click that link.

We've got followup from a listener on cognitive dissonance and behavioral science. Dave shares a listener story about a University Dean's List scam. Joe shares statistics from a government agency phishing test. Our catch of the day involves funds from the FBI, the IMF, and yes, Nigeria. Dave interviews Crane Hassold from Agari with phishing trends they've been tracking, plus his experiences as a former FBI agent.

Links to stories in today's show:

Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.


Feb 21, 2019
The trauma is multifactored.

On this Valentines Day edition of Hacking Humans, Joe and Dave examine romance scams, including the sad tale of woman bilked out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. There's a silly, non-murdering catch of the day, and Dave interviews Max Kilger from UTSA on the six motivations of bad actors.

Links to today's stories:



Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.

Feb 14, 2019
Make it seem like the real answer is impossible to know.

Dave shares a bank spoofing scam with a reminder to mind those links, especially on mobile devices. Joe describes a case of someone turning the tables on a Twitter scammer. Our catch of the day involves a clumsy claim of physical harm. Dave interviews author Dave Levitan about his book Not a Scientist: How politicians mistake, misrepresent and utterly mangle science.

Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.

Feb 07, 2019
The excitement of tricking someone wears off quickly.

We've got followup on bank scams and ransomware. Joe describes a highly sophisticated multinational business scam. Dave shares a story about private school parents falling for a Bitcoin discount scam. Our guest is Jordan Harbinger, host of The Jordan Harbinger Show, with insights on influence and social engineering. 

Links to this week's stories:


Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.

Jan 31, 2019
Opening your eyes to the reality in which we live.

Dave reviews tips on protecting yourself from ransomware. Joe describes a clever way to trick people into enabling macros. An attempt at celebrity friendship is our catch of the day. Carole Theriault returns and speaks with Dr. Jessica Barker from Cygenta about effective training techniques.

Links to stories mentioned:



Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.


Jan 24, 2019
Prisoners have nothing but time.

Joe shares the tale of a prisoner running a variety of romance scams from the inside. Dave outlines direct deposit scams. The catch of the day is a clever variation from (where else?) Nigeria. Our guest is Sam Small from ZeroFox.

Links to stories:



Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.


Jan 17, 2019
Trained humans are your strongest link.

Dave warns of scammers gaining access to homes by pretending to be workers from the local utility company. Joe shares a story of a sophisticated bank transfer scam in the UK. Our catch of the day outlines an attempted email scam targeting an architectural firm. Carole Theriault is back with the second part of her interview with the pen tester who goes by the name freaky clown.

Links to today's stories:



Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.

Jan 10, 2019
At some point you're probably going to have to do some running.

Joe describes a reply-all scenario gone wrong. Dave explains the criminal use of steganography in memes as a command and control technique. Our catch-of-the-day features alluring photos texted to an unimpressed listener. Carole Theriault interviews physical pen tester Freaky Clown.


Links to stories mentioned in this week's show:



Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.

Jan 03, 2019
Truth emerges from the clash of ideas.

We follow up on critical feedback of last week's show. Dave describes how online extortionists have pivoted from sex to explosives. We've got an auto-responding catch of the day from one of Joe's colleagues. Guest is Sean Brooks, Director of the Citizen Clinic and a Research Fellow at the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity at UC Berkeley. He shares their research into online attacks of politically vulnerable organizations.

From our EV certs follow-up:


Bomb threat catch of the day:

Sean Brooks interview:
Report: http://cltc.berkeley.edu/defendingpvos/
Clinic: http://cltc.berkeley.edu/citizen-clinic/


Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.

Dec 20, 2018
A pesky problem that doesn't go away.

Joe describes a Nigerian gang called London Blue that focuses on business email compromise. Dave shares surprising Cyber Monday phishing statistics. Guest Chris Bailey from Entrust Datacard teaches us how to detect lookalike sites online and better protect ourselves from fraud.

Links to today's stories:



Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.

Dec 13, 2018
Bringing trust to a trustless world.

Listener follow-up on a URL issue. Dave describes an elderly couple scammed out of savings. Joe wonders if it's wise to unsubscribe. Guest Andre McGregor from TLDR Capital describes his work as a former FBI agent, and his experience consulting on Mr. Robot.

Bank account transfer scam:

Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.

Dec 06, 2018
Be very aware of your desire to be right.

Joe explains URLs and DNS. Dave has tips to prevent holiday skimming. A bogus bank barrister is the catch of the day. Writer Ben Yagoda explains cognitive biases.


Wikipedia page on URLs -

Tips to prevent skimming - 

Ben Yagoda's article from the Atlantic -

Thanks to our sponsors at KnowBe4.

Nov 29, 2018
CEOs can be the weakest link.

Listener feedback on the "Can you hear me?" scam. Dave shares an ongoing Elon Musk Bitcoin giveaway scam. Joe describes the malicious use of a compromised DHL email address. This week's catch of the day comes from down under. (Apologies to the fine citizens of Australia.) Carole Theriault returns with an interview with MimeCast's Matthew Gardiner. 

Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.


Nov 15, 2018
Human sources are essential.

Joe gathers open source information online. Dave wonders if a tow truck driver got the better of him. A listener shares a possible custom app scam. Former FBI agent Dennis Franks shares his experience developing human intelligence sources.

Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.


Nov 08, 2018
Scams are fraud and fraud is crime.

We get listener followup on the church pastor scam. Dave explores a phony investment web site. Joe explains phishing, spear phishing and whaling. Fake federal agents are featured in our catch of the day. Carole Theriault interviews Max Bruce from Action Fraud UK.

Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Nov 01, 2018
Fear, flattery, greed and timing.

We get followup feedback on gift cards. Joe describes a banking payment scam on a Canadian university. Dave reveals some sneaky apps. A reader shares a story worth its weight in gold. Jenny Radcliffe from Human Factor Security shares her insights on social engineering. 

Links to stories in this episode:



Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Oct 25, 2018
Waste my time and I'll waste yours back.

Dave reveals a stealthy trademark scam. Joe describes the invocation of a judge's name to lure a victim. A listener shares a business scam from India. Joe interviews "Shannon," a listener who enjoys wasting phone scammer's time.

Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Oct 18, 2018
Information is the life blood of social engineering.

Joe ponders how a phone number is obtained. Dave's friend avoids a Google gift card scam. Christopher Hadnagy returns with an update to his book, The Science of Social Engineering.

Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Oct 11, 2018
Easier to trick than to hack

Dave dodges a local theater scam. Joe shares survey results from Black Hat attendees. A listener's calendar pops up alluring invitations. Carole Theriault interviews Sophos Naked Security writer Mark Stockley about password shortcomings. 

Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Oct 04, 2018
Kidnappers, robots and deep fakes.

Joe shares a kidnapping scam targeting foreign students. Dave describes social engineering involving robots. Our guest is Robert Anderson from the Chertoff Group, discussing Deep Fake technology and how it erodes trust.

Links to stories mentioned in this week's show:

Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Sep 27, 2018
Stringing along a scammer.

Dave warns of scammers taking advantage of hurricane Florence, both on the phone and in person. Joe shares a scheme targeting the kindness of local churchgoers. A cosmic variation on the Nigerian email scam. Joe interviews his Johns Hopkins University colleague Chris Venghaus, who leads a tech support scammer on a wild goose chase.

Links to stories mentioned in this week's show:

Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Sep 20, 2018
Influence versus manipulation.

Joe describes a law firm impersonating a rival to funnel business away from them. Dave has a story of pontiff impersonation. Our guest is Joe Gray from Advanced Persistent Security. 

Links to stories mentioned in this week's show:


Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Sep 13, 2018
Real estate transactions in the crosshairs.

Dave gets scammed on an exit ramp. Joe describes real estate transaction scams. Is LinkedIn moonlighting in Himalayan tourism? Guest Asaf Cidon from Barracuda Networks shares social engineering trends his team is tracking.

Links to stories mentioned in this week's show:


Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Sep 06, 2018
Red teaming starts with research.

Joe describes an Office 365 phishing campaign. Dave warns of dangerous USB cables. A listener shares a fax from the UK. Joe interviews security consultant and pen tester Justin White.

Links to stories mentioned in this week's show:




Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Aug 30, 2018
Telling the truth in a dishonest way.

Dave looks at Hollywood script pitch event scams. Joe describes a romance scam murder scheme. Spontaneously combusting ATM cards. Guest Jayson E. Street from SphereNY describes his security awareness engagements.

Links to stories mentioned in this week's show:



Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.


Aug 23, 2018
Sometimes less is more.

Joe shares the story of a retiree scammed by a clever scheme. Dave describes a tech-support scam with a Russian twist. Our Catch of the Day features an adorable puppy. Guest Michael Murray from Lookout explains mobile device vulnerabilities.

Links to stories mentioned in this week's show:



Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Aug 16, 2018
Focus, technology, and training fight phishing.

Dave describes a phishing attempt to infiltrate U.S. election systems. Joe shares a story of government agencies receiving malicious CDs in the mail. University employees are lured by greed. And David Baggett from Inky joins us to describe phishing techniques they are seeing and offers ways to best protect yourself and your organization.

Links to stories mentioned in this week's show:




Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.


Aug 09, 2018
Luring unsuspecting money mules.

Joe describes clever gift card scams. Dave follows up on last week's proposal to waste phone scammer's time. A more plausible phishing scheme comes through. Guest David Shear from Flashpoint describes methods scammers use to lure people into being money mules.




Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.


Aug 02, 2018
Nothing up my sleeve.

Dave shares a story of deception right out of Hollywood.


Joe proposes changing the financial incentives for scammers.

A porn-shaming catch of the day courtesy of Johannes Ulrich.

An interview with atomic physicist and close-up magician Adam West.

Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.


Jul 26, 2018
Think like an attacker.

Joe describes a con law enforcement agencies use to lure crooks. Dave shares a tech support scan spreading in chat forums. A listener from Dublin has a fake email from Apple. We welcome Rachel Tobac, CEO of SocialProof Security.

Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Jul 19, 2018
Presidential prank, pensioner pilfered.

Dave recounts the news that US President Trump likely fell for a prank phone call. Joe outlines the sad story of a woman robbed of her retirement savings. Twitter account recovery scams. Charles Arthur, author of Cyber Wars - Hacks that Shocked the Business World, joins us for an interview. 

Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Jul 12, 2018
Phone scams, phantom employees and sitting Ducks.

Joe warns of a harrowing phone scam technique, Dave reveals an alternate persona, a listener tries to sell a truck, and Carole Theriault from the Smashing Security Podcast interviews Sophos' Paul Ducklin.

Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Jul 05, 2018
Separating fools from money.

Dave shares a story of airport penetration testing with high degree of yuck-factor. Joe explores research on protecting passwords from social engineering. The catch-of-the-day comes courtesy of Graham Cluley's email spam box. Dave interviews Wired's Security Staff Writer Lily Hay Newman on her article tracking Nigerian email scammers. 

Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Jun 28, 2018
Playing on kindness.

Joe explains the Ben Franklin effect. Dave describes job applicants tricked unto money laundering. A listener tells a tale of being fooled by an appeal to greed. Joe interviews Stacey Cameron from DirectDefense about her physical penetration testing work.

Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Jun 21, 2018
Gaming pro athletes online.

Joe warns of scammers taking advantage of natural disasters, Dave explores romance scams, and gets a strange voice mail. 
Stephen Frank from the National Hockey League Players Association joins us to share how professional athletes protect themselves from online scams. 

Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Jun 14, 2018
A flood of misinformation and fake news.

In this episode, Joe examines the anatomy of a phishing attack, Dave explores pretexting, and a scammer targets real estate agents. 
Professor Stephen Lewandowsky from the University of Bristol joins us to share his research on misinformation, fake news, and inoculating people against them. 

Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.

Jun 07, 2018
Social Engineering works because we're human.

In this premier episode of the Hacking Humans podcast, cohosts Dave Bittner from the CyberWire and Joe Carrigan from the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute discuss noteworthy social engineering schemes and ways to detect them. 

Author Christopher Hadnagy discusses his book The Art of Human Hacking. 

Thanks to our show sponsor KnowBe4.


May 30, 2018