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Tips from former con-artist Frank Abagnale on how to fix your cyber security

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

A team of business and technology journalists and editors who write to help Australia’s community of small and medium businesses access the technology and know-how that helps solve problems and create opportunities.

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

A team of business and technology journalists and editors who write to help Australia’s community of small and medium businesses access the technology and know-how that helps solve problems and create opportunities.

It’s a question that plagues the technological age: how can small businesses protect themselves from internet fraud? Former conman turned cyber expert Frank Abagnale reveals how to boost your security and ultimately fix the problem of scams.

Man looking frustrated in front of computer.

Australians lose tens of millions a year to scammers online. Whether through scam emails, phishing or ransomware, hundreds of thousands of small businesses have been victims of cyber crime. Frank W. Abagnale is a former con-artist, who was famously profiled in Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film ‘Catch Me If You Can’. These days he applies his knowledge of scamming to today’s cyber security issues. Here, Frank explains how scams work and his top tips for protecting your business from a cyber attack.

What’s behind a scam?

According to Frank, not a soul on Earth is immune from being scammed, and new scams are being invented to dupe us every single day. Frank’s experience as a conman gives him a unique insight into the lesser known hacking method of “social engineering”, where human interactions are used to gain access to systems.

“The whole social engineering aspect of scamming hasn’t changed in 40 years. Scammers, conmen and criminals all stay the same, but the methods have changed significantly,” Frank explains.

“In writing my book it dawned on me that these scams are scams that are 50 years old. It’s just the methods have changed. The criminal mind has not changed much at all. There is no foolproof system, and if you think there is you haven’t taken into account the creativity of fools. We can make it so difficult for a criminal, we have the technology, but if you don’t use it, it’s worthless. If you don’t use it, you’re becoming a victim!”

Frank says that the best protection from scams is education on the methods scammers use to infiltrate our lives. That way, we can all know what to look for when scammers come calling.

Passwords are flawed from the start

Passwords – those tricky combinations we all have to remember to access our online gear – have been broken from the start, according to Frank. “We have to do away with passwords. They’re invented for treehouses.”

His solution? Get rid of passwords altogether and instead rely on smart devices and apps to identify you and your team whenever you make contact with a secure system.

“[Passwords] were invented in 1964 and today that’s 72 years on and we’re still using them. We have developed technology to eliminate passwords and identify you by your device. You might walk up to an ATM with your iPhone and open the bank’s app and it identifies you from your device. If I call the bank’s call centre, they recognise my device and I’ll open the app to verify.

“There will be no security questions and they won’t know the answers, I’ll be recognised by my device. That technology is called Trusona, funded by Microsoft. We’re slowly now in Japan and Europe getting away from passwords, and I predict as Gartner does that in the coming years we’ll see passwords go away, and that will put a huge dent in cyber crime.”

Now that you know the ways con-artists can hack your business, it’s important to do a methodical check of your security processes. Our article on the human element of cyber security can help you understand the role your team has to play in protecting your business. It’s also worth understanding call spoofing and the ways scammers can use your phone number to conduct fake calls. Remember: taking the time to strengthen your security will save you from a costly cyber breach down the line.


Worried about potential online attacks?

Telstra Business Cyber Security Services can help to protect your business.

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