'Catch Me If You Can' FBI Security Superstar Abagnale: Federal Government Is The Easiest Target For Cybercriminals

Printer-friendly version Email this CRN article

Abagnale said cybercriminals that steal identity data, as in the South Carolina and Equifax breaches, "warehouse" that data to be used to grab cash over years and years. "If I breach Home Depot or Target I am stealing credit card numbers and debit card information, that has a very short shelf life," he said. "I have to get rid of that almost immediately. If I steal your name, social security number and your date of birth, you can't change that. So the longer I hold it the more valuable it will become. We are just now [five years later] seeing South Carolina start to show up in fraudulent activity. It will be two or three years before we see Equifax start to show up. They will warehouse that data until they get ready to sell it and use that data."

Abagnale said the lesson to be learned from the breaches is that the federal government and corporations of all sizes need to do a "much better job of protecting our infrastructure."

Abagnale said he sees Truesona -- which aims to eliminate passwords with its true persona technology -- as the best product to stop cybercriminals. "This is a technology the CIA wanted -- the ability for an agent out in the field in Afghanistan to send back data over their iPhone to the field office in Langley, Va., so Langley could know the person on the other end of that device was 100 percent accurately their agent without exception," he said.

Today, Truesona has a commercial product. "We are getting rid of passwords," said a determined Abagnale, who works with Truesona. "Passwords are an old 1970s technology. It is stagnant. It is the root of all the problems we have today. We have got to get rid of passwords."

Conference attendees said Abagnale's call to action did not fall on deaf ears. They said they were inspired to do a better job of protecting IT infrastructure.

Paul Miles, a  patrolman who doubles as an IT manager for the Southwick Police Department, said the lesson from Abagnale's address is that individuals need to be better educated to protect businesses and organizations from potential breaches. "It reaffirms the point that user education is key to protecting agencies from breaches and inappropriate dissemination of data," he said. "At the ground level it is easy for users to forget that social engineering is the primary source of breaches."

Miles said IT managers and users need to be constantly vigilant about the need for proper security procedures. "Everybody is a target," he said."We are constantly reminding our employees what the proper practices are in terms of network security. We also make sure that our physical layer protections are in place and patches are in place."

Miles, who has attended the last four WCA Technology Conferences, credited Whalley Computer Associates as a "tremendous resource"  for helping protect the department. "In terms of service, Whalley is absolutely outstanding. I couldn't ask for a better resource. They are the hometown team, but in my experience I couldn't ask for a better response from them. They have been instrumental in making sure our infrastructure is secure and works properly."

Steve Dodge, director of technology for Rumsey Hall School, a boarding school in Washington, Conn., said keeping the identity of students at the school safe is "paramount."

"Hearing what Frank had to say about Truesona and no passwords is important for the future," he said. "Password technology is an issue on a global scale. Getting rid of passwords would only improve safety. Keeping people identity's safe from cybercriminals is paramount."

Besides his call to action on security, Abagnale told attendees his own personal story of criminal behavior as con artist and check forger, which was set in motion when his parents divorced after 22 years of marriage. Abagnale stood in the courtroom as a 16-year-old crying and refusing to decide which parent he would live with. Instead of making the choice, he ran away.  "By the time my parents got outside, I was gone," he said. "My mother never saw me again for about seven years until I was a young adult. Contrary to the movie, my father never saw me or ever spoke to me again."

Abagnale considers himself fortunate to have gotten a second chance and to have met his wife 40 years ago on an undercover assignment for the FBI in Houston, Texas. "When the assignment was over I broke protocol to tell her who I really was," he said. "I didn't have a dime to my name, but I eventually asked her to marry me against the wishes of her parents. She did."

As for his redemption, Abagnale said it is not a result of being born again or seeing the light or being rehabilitated in prison. It is that, "God gave me a wife."

"She gave me three beautiful children," he told the hushed crowd. "She gave me a family and she changed my life. She and she alone. Everything I have. Everything I have achieved, who I am today, is because of the love of a women and the respect three boys have for their father -- something I would never jeopardize."

Abaganale advised those in the audience that still have their mother and father: "Give them a hug. Give them a kiss You tell them you love them. While you can."

As for the men in the audience, Abagnale posed the question: "What does it really mean to be a man? Absolutely nothing to do with money, achievements, skills, accomplishments, degrees, professions, positions. A real man loves his wife. A real man is faithful to his wife. And a real man next to God and his country puts his wife and his children as the most important thing in his life. (Catch Me If You Can director) Steven Spielberg made a wonderful film, but I have done nothing greater, nothing more rewarding, nothing more worthwhile, nothing has brought me more peace, more joy, more happiness, more contentment in my life than simply being a good husband, a good father. I strive to be everyday of my life a great Daddy."

Printer-friendly version Email this CRN article