City National Bank brought renowned cybersecurity and fraud prevention expert Frank Abagnale to Nashville for an exclusive forum on October 3 in The Ford Theater at The Country Music Hall of Fame. Abagnale gained international notoriety from the depiction of his life in the Academy Award-nominated feature film, Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks and from his preceding best-selling book of the same name.
Before joining a panel of industry experts, Abagnale gave a keynote about his life’s incredible and riveting journey. For those not familiar with his story, he spent his early youth as a con man forging checks and quickly became one of the most infamous impostors of that time. He falsely assumed many identities including an airline pilot for Pan American, a physician, and a lawyer from age 15 to 21 years old. He fled from police custody on more than one occasion including from authorities on a moving commercial airliner that was turning onto a taxiway after landing at New York’s JFK International Airport.
He eventually succumbed to authorities in 1969 in Montrichard, France, when an airline attendant who he had once dated recognized him and turned him over to police. After serving time in France under horrific conditions and being extradited to the U.S., he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. After serving fewer than five years, the FBI offered him a job and release from prison in exchange for his expertise in helping federal authorities investigate and solve crimes related to fraud. He was obligated to spend the remaining time of his sentence working for the FBI. He continues to this day working for the FBI, some 45 years past his original obligation to the agency.
Abagnale shared intimate details of his personal life with the invited guests including details depicted in the Steven Spielberg produced movie.
When he was sentenced to the French prison, Abagnale weighed 198 lbs and left confinement at a staggering 109 lbs. His love for his father grew immensely during prison; however, he never saw his father again after running away from home and being imprisoned due to a freak slip-and-fall accident that caused his father’s death.
Spielberg took great strides in depicting the prison cell scene in the movie to make it as authentic as possible using old logs from the prison.
Abagnale doesn’t look back fondly during his infamous times of being the world’s most famous con man. He sees his actions as criminal, immoral and regrettable. He has passed on pardons offered from three sitting presidents citing he doesn’t think a piece of paper should erase the consequences of his bad decisions as a youth. Prior to the movie coming out, his neighbor of many years knew nothing of his past. It was a past life he seldom shared.
Crediting his wife for everything positive in his life, Abagnale took his expertise and became one of the world’s most respected authorities on forgery, embezzlement and secure documents.
After his keynote, Abagnale joined a panel of experts to discuss cyber fraud and identity theft. Panelists included Briane M. Grey, City National Bank’s Senior VP and Director of Corporate Security; Loren Dealy Mahler, President and Founder of Dealy Mahler Strategies; attorney Billy Eiselstein, Partner of Miller & Martin and moderator Nate Wehunt, City National Bank’s Senior VP and Digital Channels Manager.
One of the most thought-provoking comments involved the use of passwords. “Passwords are for tree houses,” proclaimed Abagnale. He further explained that passwords were first used in the 1960s but yet remarkably, they still remain the main form of securing access, a technology that has long exceeded its useful life. He is currently working with Trusona, a company that will help eliminate the need for passwords.
When asked about identity theft, he confessed that social security numbers and personal information of a child is much more valuable on the dark web than that of an adult–due mainly to the longevity of being able to impersonate a child for many years and stealing their identity.
Looking into the future, Abagnale shared that hackers currently have the technology to stop, slow down, or speed up a person’s pacemaker if they are a few feet away from a person. Likewise, with automobiles being heavily ran by some 200+ internal computers, hackers have the ability to shut down an automobile and lock you in your car if in close proximity. But what happens when that technology allows hackers to do that from thousands of miles away? Those are the type of security concerns we should have in the future.
MusicRow Publisher/Owner Sherod Robertson spoke with Abagnale after the forum to ask a burning question about a particular scene in Catch Me If You Can. “Did you really escape out of a moving commercial airliner as depicted in the movie?’ asked Robertson. Abagale replied with a smile, “Yes, I did. But it wasn’t through the bathroom as shown in the movie. I escaped through the food service area of the plane.”
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