Skip to main content

Small Talk Isn’t Small When You Know Enough

By January 18, 2016May 14th, 2021Cybersecurity

More times than not, people who fall victim to identity theft think about online transactions and recent credit card purchases that they made when trying to figure out how their information was compromised. Sadly, it really only takes some confidence, creativity, and a bit of luck to prey on someone and assume their identity. The computer is optional. Yes, it is important to protect your passwords. Yes, it is important to secure your network defenses. Yes, it is important to think twice before using that shady looking phone charging station. But, as we’ve said in the past, attackers look for the weakest penetration point that yields the biggest return. Sometimes having a simple conversation while waiting in an amusement park line is all that it takes to fall victim to their crafty ways.

I recently returned from a family vacation and while there I engaged in small talk several times with different people at different locations. Initially I wasn’t too concerned until one of the guards who checked the contents of bags before entering an amusement park asked me where I was from and what high school I went to. I nonchalantly responded, thinking he was just doing his job profiling me to see how I behaved, and then he said, “Oh yeah… Jeremy [snaps his fingers] Wheeler?” My jaw and just about everyone within a 5 foot radius’s jaw hit the floor. I was dumbfounded. Here I am in a panic wondering how this guy who I’ve clearly never met before picked my name right out of thin air.

Reality sets in

After what felt like 15 seconds of embarrassment and concern my suspicions were confirmed. My name was posted in plain sight for all to read on a tag that was hanging on the handlebar of the stroller I was renting for my kids. And if that wasn’t bad enough the length of time I was renting the stroller (thus presumably the length of my vacation) were on that same tag. Consider that the gateway small talk conversation starter. Immediately I began going back over the past few days thinking about all of the personal information I had disclosed to complete strangers. “Why yes I am from Philadelphia…” that’s why I’m wearing a Phillies hat. “Oh yeah we arrived on Saturday…” but you already know that BECAUSE I’M ON VACATION AND COMPLACENT WITH MY SENSITIVE INFORMATION! because it’s on this handy tag RIGHT HERE!

For the rest of the trip I took much closer notice of the things people asked of me and how I responded to inquisitive folks. You know how we recommend never answering the security questions on websites honestly and instead using a password manager to generate and store nonsensical strings? Well the same goes for complete strangers. Here is a rundown of my favorite seemingly innocent questions that are to some more than appropriate to ask but should never be answered honestly to a stranger.

“I see you are wearing a Phillies hat. Where are you from?” – “Dallas”

“At what resort are you staying?” – “We’re staying with relatives.”

“How long are you staying there?” – “Until they kick us out.”

“Oh you’re coming from quite a distance. Did you drive or fly?” – “Drove?” Oh yeah? We flew United. How was your trip?” “Loooong”

“I see you are wearing an Amazon Web Services sweatshirt. What do you do for a living?” – “Hairdresser”

The lesson here, folks, is to always remain vigilant and don’t trust a soul. Even go so far as to teach your children to not tell strangers the truth – unless they are lost and they need help from an employee at your resort. This may not be the sexiest tech blog post but I bet you’ll think twice before wearing that Phillies hat when going on vacation next time – and not just because they stink right now.


Steven Pressman

Author Steven Pressman

Steve is responsible for the strategic direction of the company and its products. He serves as the chief solutions architect, coordinating architecture and DevOps efforts for cloud, hybrid, and on-premises infrastructures. Read his full bio here.

More posts by Steven Pressman

Leave a Reply