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People have a lot of pre-conceived notions about security teams and practices. While some misconceptions may be grounded in truth and others fairly outlandish, there is a lot going on behind the scenes that users may not see. From claims that we are all hackers wearing hoodies and doing nefarious deeds to the perception that we are here to get in your way, we will help you understand what is true, what is not, and why these perceptions might exist.

Myth #1: Security is just here to say no

Being at a university presents the unique challenge of providing the tools and technology necessary for students and faculty to research, learn, and achieve their goals. We must strike a difficult balance between the availability of those resources and the security of the university and our community. As security professionals, we do everything we can to enable safe and reliable access to the tools that the GW community needs to reach their goals. We are here to facilitate a safe IT environment in which all students, faculty, and staff can access the resources that they need, sometimes it sounds like, “no”, but what we are really requesting is modifications that reduce risk of exposure or breaches at GW.

Myth #2: Security only deals with technology

Many people believe that IT security only works on securing servers, reading logs, and other highly technical tasks. On the contrary, the security team has a wide range of responsibilities of which technology is only a part. The security team is continuously engaging with people and data in a multitude of ways. Often trying to help people protect themselves and the organization through a security awareness program or working directly with other teams to enhance security within their operations. They are constantly trying to improve way to protect the GW community’s data by updating policies, implementing best practices, and assessing security processes.

Myth #3: The security team is just a bunch of hackers

Just as many people think that the security team is nothing but hackers. This is far from the truth. Information security is a wide field with many specializations and it takes all sorts to be effective. While some members of the team might be highly technical penetration testers, their counterparts are security professionals focused on defensive security and protecting the GW network and assets from outside threats. Not to mention that members of the IT Security team range from awareness professionals working with people and outreach to analysts focused on identifying and reducing risk.

Myth #4: The security team takes care of security so I don’t have to

The security team works tirelessly to ensure that the GW community, information, and assets are as well protected as possible, but the team is not always the first line of defense. Security is your responsibility too. Our community is often the first line of defense when it comes to attacks from outside GW. Social engineering (aka tricking people and deceiving them) is a common tactic employed by attackers and encompasses phishing, piggy backing, and taking advantage of users in the workplace. All of this means that you, the user, needs to play a vital role in protecting the university, or, as we call it #SecuringGW. Protecting your own information is an essential puzzle piece to overall security of GW.  Catching phishing emails and forwarding them to abuse at GW may seem like a small task, but it is small actions like this that alert the team and protect GW from large breaches. Being aware of people trying to enter buildings where they don’t belong, and maintaining a clean desk free of sensitive materials are all security measures that you can take to do your part in #SecuringGW.

Fact: GW Information Security – Your Trusted Advisor

The information security team strives to facilitate access to the resources that the GW Community needs in as secure a manner as possible. Security affects everyone; data loss, lack of availability, and compromised systems impede day to day business functions, which means it affects the day to day lives of everyone on campus. In order to help prevent this, the security team acts as a Trusted Advisor to everyone in the GW Community. Whether you want to implement a new system, service, or application, or begin a new project, involving the GW security team as Trusted Advisors from the start enables us to aid in proper project oversight and completion while maintaining and promoting the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of GW’s data, systems, and services.


Learn Social Engineering


Previously, we discussed Social Engineering in the form of Phishing, a typically untargeted attack type that focuses on quantity over quality. However, not all Social Engineering attacks cast a large net, some get up close and personal. Attacks that involve pretexting are typically more focused and can be well planned and highly targeted; making them a credible threat to information security at any company.

Whether used in person or through other means of communication, pretexting is a dangerous method used by attackers to worm their way into systems and financial profit. Pretexting can be relatively simple and recycled constantly, but can also be well thought out, researched, and specifically tailored to each target. Ultimately, pretexting involves an attacker impersonating someone or having a “legitimate” reason to gain access where they do not belong.  Pretexting relies heavily on an attacker having convincing and effective aliases, stories, identities, and credibility.

The research conducted to carry out a pretexting attack is typically all open source. They might scour an organization’s web pages to understand the size, structure, and relationships, or they might look for company login portals such as HR sites, mail hosting, and VPN portals. Often times, attackers will try to find information on specific employees like email addresses, position within the company, and any other information that can be used to impersonate or manipulate them. Gathering all of this information about an organization helps attackers in understanding how the business operates and what type of attacks might work. If the target is a large company with thousands of employees then an attempt to impersonate someone is more likely to be successful than if the target is a small close knit business that would easily recognize an imposter.

Thorough research enables attacker to determine the best methods to gain unquestioned access to money transfers, systems, and other restricted areas. A tactic that attackers frequently use is to impersonate a target’s boss, an executive, or other important figure, and then urgently request money transfers to specified accounts. The hope is that the targeted individual will panic due to the urgency and fail to verify the transaction with anyone else. Other attack types include impersonating vendors, internal departments, or other entities who might have an already established relationship with the organization. The attacker may try to call the victim and using their false identity and back story, then get them to visit a fake company login page and input their credentials. With those credentials, attackers can now access potentially sensitive systems and data.

Whether a Social Engineer uses a relatively general pretext, or a highly targeted and well planned one, users should be aware of and able to prevent the danger that they pose. Preventing these kinds of attacks is not necessarily difficult, it just takes a bit of time and diligence. If someone asks you to complete a wire transfer, take the time to confirm that they are the ones that sent the email or made the phone call. Reach out with another form of communication to verify. Always confirm any backstory that is offered to you, if you have been asked to log into a portal to accept new compliance documents or policies, contact your compliance office to double check. If someone visits the office and claims to work for a maintenance company but they aren’t on your schedule, call the corporate office and verify that their employee is supposed to be there. Confirm package deliveries from delivery people you have never seen before. Be highly suspicious of anyone who contacts you and asks for login credentials, personal information, or financial details over the phone or through email. Always be wary of strangers trying to access systems, data, and even your office building. Take the time to protect yourself and your organization from attackers who try to manipulate you with convincing and well thought out back-stories and personas.


Kennedy, D. (2014, March 05). Pretexting Like a Boss. Retrieved June 20, 2019, from

Nadeem, M. (2019, April 17). Pretexting: Definition and examples | Social engineering. Retrieved June 20, 2019, from

From Wombat Security


Phishing is a very simple and useful tool in an attacker’s arsenal. Phishing can lead to the exposure of sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, PII (personally identifiable information), and credit card information. So what is Phishing? It is at method used to obtain sensitive information from a victim that leverages social engineering and communications technologies that normal people use every day. There are various methods of phishing, with the most common being email, vishing (voice phishing), and smshing (text phishing). These methods can be blanket attempts that rely on quantity instead of quality (often called campaigns) or they can be very carefully crafted attacks with very specific targets (spear phishing and whaling). Luckily, identifying and defeating these attacks can be simple if you know what to look out for.

Email Phishing

Email is the hacker’s go-to for most phishing attacks; people wouldn’t think twice about receiving an email. Often times phishing emails will contain a malicious link, a malware attachment, or directly ask for sensitive information. In order to trick victims, these emails are crafted to appear from a big company, such as FedEx, Apple, or even from inside your own organization. Attackers use look-a-like or spoof emails to convince the target the email is legitimate. This can lead to compromised systems and/or exposed personal information, which can lead to further exposure of friends, family, and the victim’s organization.

Defeating Email Phishing:

  • Is the company logo/banner/design slightly off?
  • Would this person/company normally be sending you an email?
  • Should they already have the information they are asking for?
  • Never open unsolicited attachments
  • Legitimate Companies should never ask sensitive information through email
  • Use other methods to confirm the communication


Voice phishing is growing in popularity and just like other types of phishing, vishing can be automated making it a dangerous tool. Attack examples include an “FBI” automated message, “IRS” tax refund/payment notification, or as a call from your local home improvement company. When attackers get on the line with their target they present a well thought out and engaging backstory to hook their victims. Impersonation is used in most vishing calls; attackers will impersonate IT staff, management in your company, and HR to appear official.

Defeating Vishing:

  • Ask the caller to provide information only you and they would know to ensure the caller’s identity
  • Never give sensitive information over the phone
  • If the call is suspicious, contact someone close to the individual, or through other means
  • Offer to call the individual back at the number in your staff/corporate directory, or at the number listed on the legitimate website



Smishing sends texts to the targets phone in hopes of them clicking a malicious link, downloading malware, or returning sensitive information. Texts follow email phishing outlines and can be identified similarly. Many victims fall for smishing because they are unaware of the tactic and more trusting of texts. Don’t trust it more just because it’s a text message.

Defeating Smshing

  • Never provide sensitive information over text message
  • Avoid following random links
  • If you are unsure, reach out to your security team, or the communicating company
  • Do not call the number that texted you

Spear-phishing, Whaling & Campaigns

Most individuals come into contact with phishing campaigns. The goal of campaigns are to reach as many people as possible and hope for a hit. Whereas, spear phishing and whaling are techniques aimed at selected groups of individuals and executives. These are well planned, crafted, and executed, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. They aim to compromise victims with privileged access to systems, accounts, and resources. Victims typically don’t have the time to review these carefully crafted emails highly specific to the target and fall for the trap.

Defeating Spear-phishing and Whaling

  • Report suspicious emails looking for information to security
  • Verify communication with the contact through other methods
  • Attackers often impersonate colleagues, friends, and family
  • Always assume you’re a target
  • Opt for face to face meetings when possible (online or in person)

What is Social Engineering?

We frequently hear about cyber-attacks on organizations using highly technical and sophisticated methods, involving malware and vulnerabilities that most people don’t understand. However, what we don’t typically hear about is how the attacker got in. According to Verizon’s Data Breach Investigation Report, in 2019, a third of all data breaches involved social engineering attacks to include phishing, pretexting, and a variety of other social engineering methods.

Social Engineering involves gaining the trust of unsuspecting users via manipulation or trickery, in order to gain unauthorized system access, credentials, or commit fraud. Attackers will attempt to take advantage of a multitude of psychological traits such as carelessness, curiosity, empathy, complacency, and most frequently ignorance.

Why does it Matter?

Social Engineering attacks are more common than you might think and odds are that you will encounter one yourself in some form or another. Failing to recognize a social engineering attack could range from a minor inconvenience to a life changing event. Compromise from such an attack could lead to needing a password reset to having a bank account drained of funds, or could even be the launching point for the next massive data breach that makes headlines worldwide.

The massive Target data breach of 2013, which exposed the credit card and personal information of 110 million people, was a result of a contractor falling for a phishing email, one of the many social engineering methods attackers use. The DNC email leak in 2016 was caused by a well-crafted but fake password reset request from Google; sent to a high ranking DNC official and resulting in the leak of highly sensitive information regarding the Democratic campaign.

Social Engineering is a large threat to the safety of not just large organizations, but also the individual.

Social Engineering Life Cycle

Much like software development and risk management, many cyber-attacks follow a lifecycle approach; with a continuing cycle of input and output constantly improving the process. Social engineering is no different and even has a few lifecycle models dedicated to it. In its simplest form however, the Social engineering lifecycle follows four basic phases: Investigation, Hook, Play, and Exit.

The Investigation phase is when an attacker performs their recon. They might choose their targets based on position within an organization, ease of access, or they might choose a wide range of targets just to see what sticks. After choosing a target they will use public information to learn as much as possible. Sources such as social media, company websites, and other profiles provide a wealth of information for attackers to use.

The Hook phase involves the initial interaction with the target; ranging from email to in person contact. During the hook, the attackers focus is on spinning a web of lies to manipulate victims at their will.

During the Play phase an attacker gains a stronger foothold and carries out the attack. Depending on their goals, they will begin disrupting or stealing sensitive and valuable data.

The Exit phase points to the end of the lifecycle. The Social Engineer will attempt to remove all traces of their presence and bring an end to their charade. Everything the attacker has gained or learned during the process is then used during a new attack cycle to more effectively con another victim.

Social Engineering and unaware users provide a vast attack surface that can be easily taken advantage of.  Meaning that you need to do everything you can to be prepared for and protect yourself from the conmen of the internet age.

GW Box is the university's enterprise file sharing service for online cloud storage and collaboration. GW also uses Gmail for email service, as such, the community has access to Google Drive as a cloud storage solution as well. Sharing and collaborating is essential to every work and study environment in the 21st century. Whether it’s for class projects or work projects, cloud storage and sharing solutions have changed and simplified how we do things. But, there are practices we should implement and guidelines we should follow in order to use the cloud responsibly. Below are the recommended Best Practices by GW IT and GW Information Security.



Social media trends are not only fun, but they also include a hint of FOMO if we don’t participate. The same can be said for the newest viral trend of “how hard did aging hit me” challenge, also know as the “10 year challenge.” There have been speculations on the origin and purpose of this trend across the internet, even in the information security Twitter community.

Kate O’Neill’s tweet is a perfect example of a growing distrust the public has of social media and the internet in general after the introduction of many AI technologies, whether they be related to ad content or predictive text.

This affects the GW community at every level; students, staff members, and faculty members alike partake in social media sharing. There is nothing that confirms that O’Neill’s tweet has truth to it. However, our goal is to highlight the need of users to be smart and to be safe online. Always be vigilant of what you post and how much detail you give out, especially when it comes to location sharing. Criminals are becoming increasingly more knowledgable about how to use technology to their advantage, as are large corporations like Facebook where we live our daily lives. The younger the clientele, the more common it is for them to live their life in the digital world. Be #securityaware.

Skeptics can agree that this trend and some others can be seen as data mining or data harvesting parading as a harmless social game. Realistically speaking, information security professionals know that technology has become so mobile that it goes where we go. So, our message to you is be mobile, but be mindful. Stay mindful of what you share and how much you share. It may sound like an older generation reprimanding you, but it is true, everything you do does not have to be a social media post.

Let us know in the comments below if you make it a habit to consider what details you post on social media or if you have generally seen it as harmless fun.

#bemobile #bemindful #securityaware


If you use an iPhone, chances are you use FaceTime. Several sources have reported a bug discovered in the FaceTime application. The vulnerability allows a caller to remotely listen to the recipient's microphone before the recipient accepts the FaceTime call. It has also been reported that a variation of this vulnerability will allow a caller to receive video prior to the recipient accepting the FaceTime call.

Apple is working to release a software update to correct the problem later this week. In the meantime, we recommend the GW community disable FaceTime on Apple devices including iPads, iPhones, and Macs.

Instructions for iOS (12.1):

  1. Unlock device and go to “Settings”
  2. Scroll to FaceTime
  3. Toggle FaceTime off

Instructions for macOS (10.14):

  1. Open FaceTime application
  2. Click on the FaceTime menu (to the right of the Apple menu in the top left corner of the screen)
  3. Select “Turn FaceTime off”

Questions? For questions or to report any problems, please contact GW Information Technology at 202-994-GWIT (4948), or IT.GWU.EDU.



The US Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid has identified a malicious phishing campaign that may lead to potential fraud associated with student refunds and aid distributions. Multiple institutions of higher education have reported that attackers are using a phishing email to obtain access to student accounts by providing links to bogus student portals.

If you have received this email or a similar one, please do not reply to it, open any attachments or click on the link.

If you have responded to the phishing attempt with your GW NetID and corresponding password, please change your password immediately by visiting and clicking on “Reset/Forgot Password”.

Please remember that you should always be wary of messages requesting account verification, confirmation or upgrade, payment or personal information such as your passwords, GWid, Social Security number or credit card information. Additionally, please ensure that your computer is patched with the most recent operating system updates.

If you receive any phishing attempts in the future, please do not reply to them, open any attachments or click on any links. Please forward the email to

If you have any questions about the validity of a link you see or a message you receive, please contact the IT Support Center at 202-994-GWIT (4948), or IT.GWU.EDU.

Over the past few months, GW has been introducing two-step authentication to all students, faculty and staff for GW Google apps. By February 28, 2018, the entire GW community will be required to use two-step authentication to sign into GW Google email, calendar and drive.

Two-step authentication is a second layer of security in addition to your password for any kind of login. It means you have to confirm your identity in two ways – with something you know (your password) and something you have (a code sent to your phone).

OK, how does this work?
GW uses Microsoft two-step authentication to ask individuals for a second confirmation of their identity at login, using a physical device in their possession. The device may be a smartphone or tablet using the free Microsoft Authenticator app, a text message sent to your phone, or an automated voice call to landline or cell phone.

Why do we need two-step authentication?
Passwords alone aren’t good enough to protect your personal information and our systems and networks. Two-step authentication makes it much harder for unauthorized individuals to access your account, in addition to GW systems and networks.

Isn’t this an inconvenience?
We hope not! Many people already use two-step authentication systems for online banking and shopping. Even social media sites may ask you to confirm your identity when you’re trying to log in from a new device or location. If you try to use your credit card to buy gas, you may be asked to enter your ZIP code. That's two-step authentication at work.

In addition, the GW community has the ability to select a “Remember me for 14 days” option. This means you’ll only have to use two-step authentication every 14 days to sign into your GW email from a trusted device.

Does two-step authentication really provide better protection?
Yes. While it’s not foolproof or perfect, it is a great additional measure to safeguard your accounts and data. At GW, the most secure option is to use two-step authentication with the Microsoft Authenticator app, which will generate a one-time code each time you login, even if you don’t have cellular reception. This eliminates the possibility of getting hacked through your text messages or email. Although two-step authentication isn’t perfect, it’s one of the best options to protect your data.

The Division of IT is committed to providing the GW community with resources to be more secure. To learn more about two-step authentication at GW, visit or check out this November Hatchet article.

If you’re interested in learning more about security best practices and data privacy, the Division of IT is holding a Data Privacy Event on January 30, 2018 in the lower level of District House.

If you like winning things, please take our short data privacy survey: Respondents will be entered to win one of two books about data privacy. Your feedback will help us develop better data privacy practices here at GW.

data privacy graphicThis month, we’re talking about the importance of data privacy and steps you can take to better protect your data online. Data Privacy Day is Sunday, January 28 and was created to start a conversation about the importance of data privacy and provide resources to help you protect your data.

Here at GW, the Division of IT provides students, faculty and staff access to GW Google Drive and GW Box to store and collaborate on files. These document management solutions provide plenty of storage space and have features that allow users to easily share documents with others.

security best practicesIn order to protect your data and GW’s data when using these services, follow these security best practices:

  • Evaluate the business need
    • If you don’t need to store or maintain a document, don’t
    • If the document contains regulated data, use GW Box, not GW Google Drive
    • If the document contains restricted or public data, you can use GW Box or GW Google Drive
  • Share with care
    • Be mindful of what you are sharing and with whom you are sharing it. It’s easy to make mistakes when it comes to sharing files so be mindful of typos and these options when you share:
      • Share with “People with the Link” - Anyone with the link to this file is able to access the document (this sharing means public)
      • Share with “People in your company” - Anyone with the link at GW will be able to access the document
      • Share with “People in this folder” - Anyone who has access to the folder will be able to access the document
  • Don’t store credit card numbers
  • Limit use and storage of Social Security Numbers (SSN)
    • Most of the functionality and use of SSN has been replaced by the GWID
    • If you do work with SSNs, be mindful of what you are storing on your local machine and in GW Box and GW Google Drive
    • Only store Social Security Numbers in GW Box and only if there is a valid business need

You can learn more about document management solutions at GW by visiting

privacy matters to us graphicThe Division of IT is holding a Data Privacy Event on January 30, 2018 in the lower level of District House. Join us to learn more about data privacy resources.

If you’re interested in helping to shape a data privacy program at GW, please take our short survey: Respondents will be entered to win one of two books about data privacy.