Terry Zink's Cyber Security Blog

Discussing Internet security in (mostly) plain English

Truth and deception

Truth and deception

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I was reading in today's issue of the Financial Times that Gartner reported that 5m (million?) US consumers lost money due to phishing attacks in the 12 months up to September 2008, up 40% from the previous year.  The percentage of funds retrieved dropped from 80% in 2005 to 56% in 2006.  Ouch.  So, I thought I would do a blog post on how to detect a real message vs a phish.  Apparently this is still a serious problem.

But before I get into that, I thought I'd deviate a bit and educate my readers on some stuff I have learned this past year on how to stop something that is genuine and distinguish between something that is not.  This is real world stuff - have you ever seen somebody smile at you and then you wonder whether or not it is a real smile or if they're just being polite? 

Many people subconsciously know the difference between a real smile and a fake one.  If you do, you probably can read signals better than you thought.  But do you know which signals you are actually reading?

One of my New Year's resolutions was to get better at reading non-verbal communication.  I admit that I am not great at consciously reading people.  Direct communication works best for me, so I decided to expand my abilities.  And that's where I have come across the smile test.  Here's how you distinguish between a real smile and a fake one:

  1. The Duchenne Marker - Use this to impress your friends for your next game of trivial pursuit.  The zygomatic major pulls the corners of the lips up to the cheekbones, resulting in an up-turned grin on the face of the person doing the smiling.

  2. The orbicularis oculi raises the cheek and crinkles the skin around the eye sockets.  This is referred to as crow's feet, and older people can get permanent ones.  In my experience, checking the eyes during the smile is the most reliable way to distinguish between a real smile and a fake one.

  3. Another very subtle characteristic of real smiles is that the eyebrows tend to dip slightly.

  4. Finally, real smiles last shorter, perhaps 1/2 a second to maybe 4 seconds.  So, believe a short smile more than a long one.

Does this work?  Studies show that while there is no connection between our emotions and our words, there is a connection between our emotions and our physiology.  Real smiles really do conform to the above, it's something that occurs subconsciously.

The BBC has a test you can do to test yourself.  I didn't do as well as I had hoped but every one I got right was because of the four points above, especially number 2.  To try it out in real life, a friend and I went out to dinner the other day.  The waitress came to serve us and she smiled.  However, the skin around her eyes did not crinkle.  As she walked away, I told my friend that it was a fake smile, it wasn't real.  So whereas before I may have been able to subconsciously figure it out (actually, I probably would not have even paid attention), now I know what to actually look for.

So, all you tech guys, while you may know the difference between a phish and a legitimate message, hopefully today you learned something that will be useful in real life.

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