Crime, Cyber Security, and the Difference between a “Daddy” and a “Father”

One of my favourite films is Catch Me If You Can, so I noticed on YouTube an interview the focus of the film: Frank Abagnale:

I had assume it was going to be about a life of crime and how different his life had been from the movie, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. His presentation is beautiful and full of humility and honestly, with classic Cyber Security advice dotted around. He was a person who was offered three Presidential pardons, but refused them, as he recons that his crimes were unpardonable. He served time in three prisons for his crimes, but came out a better person, and ended up working with the FBI.

So I’m going to dip in, and pick out a few quotes, but please watch the whole presentation.

He never for one minute excuses his crime, but he does show that one moment of his life caused him to crack.

This change of age allowed him to be paid him a higher hourly rate, and more work. It was the way that he handled himself and the confidence he showed which the allowed him to push the barriers for the beginnings of his frauds:

And so it was on his travels to New York that chose to be a pilot:

So he called up the airline and told them he had lost his uniform, and so the airline told him to get himself off to a nearby store:

And from there we learnt all about the etiquette of the airline industry, and travelled in the bucket seat for free. A grand tail of social engineering.

And so he made his way to the ID card manfacturer and pointed to a Pan Am card and said that he would like to buy a batch of them, and they even took his picture on one a sample:

As you should know if you have watched the movie, he found a toy plane and steamed off the log, and applied it to the card, and it completed his masquerade. For the next two years, he eventually boarded 260 flights to 26 countries, and was in the bucket seat for every one. In all the time, he never actually flew with Pan Am, and he thought he would get noticed.

He then continued his exploits and onto posing as doctor and as a legal professional, but was caught in France, where he severed his time in horrible circumstances. After that he was extradited to Sweden, where he served time, and then onto the USA, where he again served time.

You can watch the movie, and find out more. But it was the next part of his talk that really showed Frank as a humble person. He beamed about his kids, and of the true love of the foundation of his life: his wife. And then, he shows his inner feels on the difference between a “Daddy” and a “Father”:

A few tears for that one? As a grandpa, I did have to shed a tear for this, and the things he said just after this. And:

For him, although the film glamourised his world, deep down there was a root cause:

And so, he is asked, have things become more difficult in the modern age:

And with social engineering these days you can pretty much discover anything:

And for data breaches, he homes in on the human side to:

And then goes straight for identity theft:

And he nails it with around the way that data breaches just start small, and the rocket up:

And then he hits companies like Equifax hard by saying that they tried to gain from the data breach:


And it’s passwords that Frank feels cause much of the problem:

And finally …

I lovely talk.

In Scotland, over many years I have been lucky enough to work alongside people with a heart-felt passion for their work, including people like Eammon Keanne, and who has supported so many things — our start-ups, our training, our research — for all the right reasons. I’ve also seen people like John Howie, Federico Charosky, Harry McLaren, Basil Mannouss (who now works for our Cyber Academy) and Jamie Graves giving beautiful talks — sometimes with no PowerPoint slides — and where they tell it from their heart. What is common with these people is that at the drop of a hat, they are willing to come in a talk to students on their careers and their motivation — on what they love and what don’t — without any benefit to them. Few students can leave their talks, without being completely inspired by them.

Too many in our industry give presentations that just scare people with no real understanding of the real problems that lie underneath, and which also lack a human element. Too many of our technical presentations just focus on the technology, but Frank talks from the heart, and shows that he is a caring and compassion human, and who has made mistakes, but who aims to do his best for this world.

This is an industry of people and not companies. It is people who do things, that change things, that drive things. It is people that actually care.

So, if you are a man, are you a “Daddy” or a “Father”?



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Prof Bill Buchanan OBE

Professor of Cryptography. Serial innovator. Believer in fairness, justice & freedom. Based in Edinburgh. Old World Breaker. New World Creator. Building trust.