Security guru notes how IT eases committing fraud

Frank Abagnale doesn't use online banking, thinks ID cards are a bad idea, and reckons the U.K. needs data breach notification laws.

Fraud expert, author and ex-con artist Frank Abagnale doesn't use online banking, thinks ID cards are a bad idea, and reckons the U.K. needs data breach notification laws.

"You can have the most sophisticated software in the world, the best technology. All it takes is one weak link in the chain," said Abagnale.

In a wide-ranging interview conducted as the closing keynote at the RSA Conference Europe event in London, Abagnale discussed how technology has made it easier than ever to commit fraud.

Now a fraud expert who has worked extensively for the FBI over the past 32 years, Abagnale's life as an imposter and forger of checks in the 1960s was recorded in the book and the film Catch Me If You Can.

"Stealing identities is the easiest crime there is. It's as easy as counting one-two-three," said Abagnale, citing numerous examples of companies dumping information in bins outside the front of their buildings.

"I don't use online banking because I deal with online fraud all the time in my work. I don't write checks and I don't use debit cards," he said. Instead, Abagnale relies on credit cards, because the liability for fraud lies with the credit card company, not the customer.

He said online banking is "safe based on how you read the deposit agreement with your bank".

"Technology is getting better. There is no foolproof system, there never has been and never will be. When people say their system is foolproof, they are underestimating the creativity of fools."

And the art of the con is easier, thanks to technology, Abagnale claimed. "There's no need to wear a nice suit and no relationship one-on-one with the victim. Now you can commit crime in pyjamas in a bedroom 40 miles from the victim, and there's no guilt because there's no face-to-face relationship."

Abagnale also questioned the application of biometrics technology. "The most important thing a person has is their privacy. I don't want to see biometrics in use on ATM machines. The question you need to ask is: do you trust Visa with your DNA? Once you've lost your DNA you've lost your identity forever. There should be a limit to what information you put in the hands of other people."

He posed the hypothetical example of a security guard on minimum wage offered US$80,000 cash to take a copy of a filing cabinet full of information and give it to a stranger.

On the issue of the U.K.'s planned ID card, Abagnale said he didn't see the purpose of the cards, and warned it would "make it a hundred times easier" for someone else to steal and sell data. "It's absurd to think someone can't counterfeit ID cards -- you can replicate anything."

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Siobhan Chapman

Computerworld UK

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