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Language matters

Veteran con man Frank Abagnale gave a riveting final keynote. He punctured some of the myths from the film ‘Catch me if you can’, for example he never saw his father after the age of 16 and he never flew with Pan Am. He made no money for the film and was barely involved in filming. Abagnale isn’t a hacker but is one of the finest social engineers of his time. He detailed how to bluff out administrators by using their language. For example pilots always refer to aircraft as ‘equipment’, simply using the correct language engenders trust. It was knowledge like this that saw him steal millions of dollars and fly over a million miles in the jump seat of various aircraft. Then he befriended a doctor who was going through a divorce and picked up the medical jargon and started reading medical textbooks. Then he posed as a doctor using that knowledge. He is also brutally honest. He said what he did was immoral, illegal and unethical but he is not a genius, just observant. There’s a whole generation of social engineers who have learnt his lessons, but sadly not his morality.

His talk ended with the only standing ovation of the conference, and he deserved it.

February 18, 2005 | Permalink

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