Social engineering attacks rely on an attacker successfully deceiving someone in order to obtain information or privileged access to a network, system, or an area of a building. World renowned hacker Kevin Mitnik was a master of social engineering exploits and often used them to gain the access he needed.
Can people be taught to recognize a deception-in-progress? Is there a training course for recognizing the signs of a lie or con? A course like this would be an invaluable tool for training company personnel, such as executive secretaries or security guards, who are likely to be on the front lines of social engineering attacks.
In my research to answer the question above, I stumbled upon Dr. Paul Ekman's F.A.C.E training website. On his site he offers a $69 course called METT which stands for Micro Expression Training Tool.
If you've ever watched the Fox Network TV show Lie To Me then you're probably familiar with the term micro-expression. A micro-expression is a facial expression that occurs at a high speed (a fraction of a second) that can potentially reveal how someone is truly feeling, whether they are angry, sad, happy, etc. While you can't read someone's mind, these micro-expressions may leak information on how a person is really feeling. Micro-expressions may also help you to discern when someone might not be telling the truth, especially if their micro-expressions contradict what they are saying to you.
Dr. Ekman has researched micro expressions for several decades and was actually a scientific adviser on the Lie To Me television show. Dr Ekman's training course is geared towards law enforcement, security, media professionals, and anyone else who is interested in learning how to decipher micro expressions so they can recognize how people are truly feeling and possibly detect deception.
Dr. Ekman's site features a couple of different training courses. I decided to review the METT Advanced course which had the most content and was the longer of the course offerings available.
The METT Advanced course focuses on teaching you how to recognize the micro-expressions that correspond to 7 basic human emotions: anger, disgust, sadness, fear, surprise, happiness, and contempt.
The course is accomplished completely online via a flash-enabled web browser. After you register, pay the course fee, and are provided with access to the course, you will be given a short introduction. After the intro, you are asked to set a speed for the viewing of the micro-expressions that will be shown to you during the training and test portions of the course. They recommend that you choose the faster speed, only moving to the slower speed if you encounter problems. It is important to note that you will only be provided with a course certificate of satisfactory completion if you're using the faster speed setting (and score 80% or better on the course post-test).
Once you've set the speed, you are directed to a short pre-test containing videos of different people displaying various micro-expressions. The purpose of the pre-test is to see how well you are naturally able to discern the 7 emotions mentioned earlier. I scored a 57% on the pre-test so I guess I'm not naturally gifted with the ability to read micro-expressions.
After the pre test, you are presented with videos that show you micro-expressions for the different emotions that the course focuses on. These videos show the micro-expressions in slow motion so that you can study them in detail. Some videos have a side-by side comparison of two emotions that are often confused with each other so that you can see the subtle differences in order to tell them apart. Anger and disgust are very closely related as are fear and surprise.
Once you have watched the videos and feel like you are ready, you can attempt the practice test to help you prepare for the real test at the end of the course.. In the practice test, you are presented with short video clips showing micro-expressions from 42 people of various cultures. The basic micro-expressions shown in the course are thought to be universal and not dependent on a person's gender, race, or country of origin.
You are directed to choose the button corresponding to emotion that you believe you saw in the micro expression video shown to you. You will be told whether or not you guessed correctly and will be given the ability to see the Micro expression over and over as needed. Some examples even offer a commentary button that provides further details about the expression in the video that was presented.
Once done with the practice test you can take the "post-test" which will be scored. If you get an 80% or better (in fast mode only) then you will receive a certificate of satisfaction. A score of 95% or higher will get you a certificate of expertise. I managed to get an 82% on my first attempt which was much improved from my 57% on the pre test.
If you don't make an 80% or better on the post-test or you just want more practice, there is an "Additional Practice" section that provide 84 additional face videos to try your luck with.
The website states that you can repeat the course as much as needed as it does not expire once you have paid for it.
Overall, I liked the course. Dr. Ekman is a well respected leader in the field of micro expressions research and the material appears to be very well researched. Although the title of the course is METT Advanced, the course feels more like a foundation level building blocks course. I feel like I now know the basics and would like to see a follow up course that builds on what I have learned. According to the person I talked to from Dr. Ekman's website, a truly next level course is in the works and should be released soon.
Do I feel like I can read someone's mind now? No, but I do feel like I'm paying better attention to people's facial expressions and now that I can better discern what their micro-expressions reveal, perhaps I can get a better idea of how they are really feeling even when their mouths are saying something to the contrary. For $69 it's a pretty good course and worth the price of admission. I look forward to Dr. Ekman's next offering.Dr. Ekman's METT Advanced online course is available from Dr. Ekman's F.A.C.E. Training Website.