How to fix your cyber security like a conman would

No small business wants to deal with a security breach. But cyber crime is a reality that your business should factor into its risk management plan. Here, we share cyber security tips from an ex-conman.
· 14 March 2023 · 4 minute read

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


Why is now the time to think about cyber security?

Australians lose tens of millions of dollars a year to scammers online. Whether through scam emails, phishing or ransomware, hundreds of thousands of small businesses have been targeted by 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 shares his top tips for protecting your business from a cyber attack.


What you need to know about social engineering

According to Frank, not a soul on Earth is immune from being targeted by cyber crime, and new scams are being invented every single day. Frank’s past experience as a conman gives him a unique insight into a lesser-known method used by hackers called “social engineering”. This method refers to the use of human interactions 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 their methods have changed significantly,” Frank explains.

“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 to educate ourselves on the methods scammers use to infiltrate our lives. That way, we can know what to look for if hackers attempt to target our personal and business critical information.


What you need to know about passwords

Passwords 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 log in to a secure system.

“[Passwords] were invented in 1964 and we’re still using them. We have developed technology to eliminate passwords and identify you by your device. [For example] 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.”

When you use your device to access systems, you won’t have to provide answers to any security questions, Frank says. You’ll be recognised by your device alone, due to a technology called Trusona that’s funded by Microsoft.

“We’re slowly now in Japan and Europe getting away from passwords. I predict, as [technological research firm] Gartner does, that in the coming years we’ll see passwords go away, and that will put a huge dent in cyber crime.”


What you can do today to help protect your business tomorrow

Whatever your current cyber strategy security is, learning more about how to protect your business and customers from cyber crime will help you become more secure.

Want to increase your knowledge? Our report on Managing Risks Online can help you assess and consider the risks and strategies that are relevant for your business.

Remember: taking the time to strengthen your cyber security may help save you from a costly security breach in the future.

Help fight security breaches

Are you managing risks effectively?

By signing up for Cyber Wardens, a program from the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia (COSBOA) that aims to educate businesses like yours on how to help fight online threats.

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