This year I had some extra money burning a hole in my pocket and right away I thought Blackhat Training. This year I had the pleasure of taking the Advanced Practical Social Engineering class by Social-Engineer, Inc.
This is a class I have wanted to take since its inception four or five years ago. I’m quite introverted and dealing with people is outside of my comfort zone (to put it mildly). Don’t get me wrong, I can put on an extrovert face when needed but its uncomfortable and draining.
As a small disclaimer I would like to say that I have known Chris Hadnagy from conferences and twitter and such for some time before taking this class. That being said, Lets get on to the fun stuff.
The requirements for the class are listed as the love of learning new things, the willingness to try anything, and the willingness to expand your mind. By far the willingness to try anything is the most important requirement for the class (keep reading, you’ll understand why later on).
Day one is all about DiSC, which stands for dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness. You can find a great overview at discprofile.com.
You spend a good amount of time learning about the strengths and weaknesses of each profile and how each type tends to function in general situations. Be aware that if you already know this information about yourself you may be bored on day one, but stick it out, it will get better.
I got something that was totally different then what I expected which really peaked my interest.
Towards the end of the day you get put into groups to make sure you have at least one of each type of person in your group and that’s when the homework begins.
Day One Homework
At the end of the day, you get hit with homework. I knew this was coming from others who have taken the class and was one of the reasons I wanted to take this class, not only do you get to learn about this information, you get to try it in the field. The goal for the night (in either your group or solo) was to get information from complete strangers. You will have to attend the class to find out more. This task is made more difficult when you are instructed to stay away from any service staff.
Day One Homework Experience
After meeting with my group we decided to go solo, some of the class were not aware of homework and/or made other plans for that night. I hit the strip and started to walk from casino to casino trying to find a good target. To make a long (and boring) story short I struck out and after an hour or two I had a few peoples first names but that was it. While heading back to the Rio (where I was staying) there where a bunch of people in Star Trek uniforms, turns out there was a Star Trek convention at the Rio during blackhat. An idea hit me, scavenger hunt; it was one of those moments where you want to just slap yourself on the forehead. I approached some people and they were quite happy to take a picture with me. I then mentioned that I needed someone’s information in order to verify the photo was real and not staged. I handed my phone over to the closest person and had them enter the details I needed. No one questioned this and I didn’t quite understand why.
You start off day two with a debrief of the previous nights homework. Each team gets 10 minutes to talk about what they tried that worked, and any failures they have. Chris offers help, tips, and any insight he may have from similar situations. You then start discussing topics such as elicitation, influence, manipulation, and pretexting.
Now I’ve read all of Chris’s books as well as most (if not all) of Paul Elkman’s books so I found most of this day as review. What I enjoyed most was the debates that would start throughout the day on these topics as well his examples of what worked and what failed.
Day Two Homework
At the end of the day, you get hit with homework (again). Tonight the homework is more personal and difficult.
Day Two Homework Experience
Since we went out solo on day one, we choose to meet up at the iBar over at the Rio. One of the main reasons for this was due to the Star Trek convention so we knew there would be a ton of people roaming around the casino. The night started out well as we met up and got to know each other a bit. While discussing possible pretexts to use, we started talking to the waitress (yes we knew this didn’t count, but practice makes perfect).
Shortly thereafter a group of eight women sat themselves two tables over from us. We invited them to join us, but they were not interested. One member of our group started to do some magic for them, it wasn’t the best magic in the world but some of them liked it while one of them (luckily the one closest to me) had this look of utter disgust on her face. I started to joke with her about how bad the tricks where and she started to open up to me a bit. We started to bond over the fact that we had kids of similar age and that they were into the same things (minecraft, legos, and such), which lead to all the information that I needed.
You start off day three with a debrief of the previous nights homework. You discuss some information gathering techniques but its very basic. There is a lot more info in the course book that you just don’t have time to cover in order to shorten the five day class into four days for blackhat. This wasn’t an issue for my class since 95% of the class was well versed in this area. I should note that Chris offered to consult via email or before/after class with anyone who wasn’t well versed to walk though the pages of the book and answer any questions they may have had.
The rest of the day was spent on psychological principles and the goals and techniques of a professional social engineer. I won’t go into all the details but this time is spent debating issues that people had questions about as well as stories about Chris’s failed attempts and what he learned from them.
Day Three Homework
At the end of the day, you get hit with homework (notice the pattern?). I’m leaving the details because I don’t want to ruin the fun for you.
Day Three Homework Experience
Some of what I’m about to mention below may seem rather vague, but its an attempt to share what we tried without giving away the details of the homework.
We went out as a group again tonight because we had such good success the night before. This was a Monday night and we had a hard time finding anyone receptive to what we needed to obtain. Everyone seemed to be leaving Vegas or just getting to Vegas, in short, the bars were empty. We landed in one bar and with a marketing research pretext started asking our female bartender where the hotspots were on a Monday night. What was funny is the more we told her we couldn’t ask her for help, the more she wanted to see the information we needed to collected. We finally caved and showed her and then she rapid fired her answers at us without a thought, it was pretty surreal.
Alas, we split up after 3 hours we split up where some of the team members had greater success in smaller groups with a scavenger hunt pretext.
You start off day four with a debrief of the previous nights homework. The rest of the morning you spend talking about non-verbal communication and how to weaponize them. I missed some of the morning but was filled in by some of the members on my team. You are then informed of something special in store for you in the afternoon.
Day Four Challenge
After lunch you meet with your team around some shops in the casino and are given 10 minutes to engage targets. This sounds easy until you find out you don’t get to pick your targets, Chris and his team sends you a text message with a target and you’re off!
I almost forgot to mention that you couldn’t speak to Chris and his team as they covertly spy on you to take pictures and listen in so they can provide feedback later on.
Day Four Challenge Experience
We decided as a team that we would switch off on the targets. There were three of us and I was going to go last for the approach. Our first target was an elderly couple sitting on a park bench, which turned out to not speak any English at all. Our next target was a man walking with a woman in a jean jacket. At this point I noticed his tattoos and used that as a starter to stop them from walking and start a conversation (I may have one or two tattoos myself). Our last target (which I’m glad wasn’t mine) ended up being a young woman which caused a stir as there is no reason for an older man to approach a woman that had to be younger then 16 and ask for help picking out a gift for your wife, she about run out of the store.
I would like to see some of the images in the slide deck changed. Chris seemed to rely a good bit on images that are available in his books. This may be a non-issue, but for someone who is familiar with his work it would have been nice to see different examples.
Overall I loved the class and learned a great deal about communicating with other people as well putting it into practice with the ability to get feedback right away. I would highly recommend taking this class if you have the chance.