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The impact of ‘social engineering’ on our lives

Louisiana Tech Professor writes a new book on cybersecurity and how internet actors can influence our daily lives.
Published: May. 13, 2022 at 10:21 AM CDT
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MONROE, La. (KNOE) - All eyes are on cybersecurity these days - especially as the Russian invasion into Ukraine continues.

Louisiana Tech Univesity professor, Dr. Robert Gehl’s new book, Social Engineering: How Crowdmasters, Phreaks, Hackers, and Trolls Created a New Form of Manipulative Communication, is very timely.

“Starts out by talking about 2016, that election, Russian interference, and Cambridge Analytica and all that stuff that seems like so long ago but it still echoes today,” says Dr. Gehl.

He looks at the term “social engineering” and how internet actors can influence our decisions.

“Social engineering is convincing people to take actions they would normally not do and for us that could be giving out a password to a computer system but it also could mean making a political choice we might not want to do,” explains Gehl. “And what we’re doing in the book is connecting contemporary cybersecurity to old-school early 20th-century propaganda.”

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine started, U.S. officials have worried about cyberattacks as retaliation for our aid to Ukraine. And Gehl says we’ve already seen Russia’s ability in past elections.

“The biggest concern that I have is less breaking into organizations and more the work they’ve kind of done to sew chaos in American political deliberations starting in 2016, 2018, 2020,” says Gehl. “And, no doubt as we head into the next election foreign governments will spread disinformation through social media that highlights the polarization that we have. We have plenty of polarization in the U.S. without other people from the outside stoking it.”

To stop some of these scams, Gehl says it needs to start at the federal level.

“Europe has stronger privacy protections than the U.S. and, in fact, some of the manipulative communicators that we talk about in the book, talk about how easy it is to get personal information in the U.S. versus the European Union. So if the U.S. were to have more privacy regulations like other countries it might reduce the amount of scams we see.”

Taking a look throughout history and the tactics different scammers have taken, Gehl says things don’t change all that much. He says scammers continue to play on fears, which is why its’ important to be vigilant.

“A lot of them - and this is really disturbing - will use traumatic events. So, if there’s an earthquake somewhere they will scam and say they’re with a relief organization or these days obviously donating to help Ukrainian refugees.”

Dr. Gehl says you can get the book at local stores or online. He says if you want to go online, head to bookshop.org because they support local bookstores.

So far, Gehl says the book looks like it’s doing well since it hit the shelves in March.

Gehl says the book has been in production for about the past four years. He says he brought his former colleague Sean Lawson onto the project because he’s a cyber security expert. Coupled, with Gehl’s background in ‘Hacker Culture’, they were able to get a comprehensive look at the tactics people take.

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