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Social engineering goes to the movies

Joan Goodchild | March 30, 2012
If you fall for a social engineer's trickery, it's embarrassing.

A wealthy but bored business man, Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) decides to pull off an art heist at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art just for the fun and challenge of it.

Crown is well known at the museum long before the heist because he spends many hours there, hanging out in the Impressionist gallery and getting to know the guards. This alone makes it easier for him to pull off the crime, according to Sileo.

"That's the whole authority technique," he said. "Utilizing a combination of confidence and the perception of authority. It's such a simple example."

When it is time to pull off the theft, Crown hires a group of Romanian men who pose as a Trojan Horse of sorts by infiltrating one of the galleries and pretending to be guards. They cut off the air conditioning and claim to be there to clean the gallery, but are ultimately caught by the museum's official guards and a struggle ensues.

During a chaotic scene in which everyone is evacuated, Crown manages to slip a titanium briefcase under a security gate to prevent it from closing; he slides under the gate into a completely different gallery without being seen. Because of the distraction elsewhere he is able to steal the painting "San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk" by Monet, valued at $100 million.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

Hadnagy describes Dirty Rotten Scoundrels as "another classic about two con men fighting for the right to stay in their territory."

The first confidence man, as one French police officer describes him, is an American named Freddie (Steve Martin) who poses as a wounded soldier in a wheel chair. Using this ploy to appear helpless and trustworthy, Freddie swindles money from female victims "for an operation for his grandmother."

The other, more sophisticated social engineer in the film is Lawrence (Michael Caine), who runs his cons in the finer hotels in Southern France and poses as a prince who needs funds "to free his enslaved people" or "to fight the communists."

Eventually they team up when Freddie begs Lawrence to teach him some of his ways and Freddie then plays the memorable part of Ruprecht, the prince's bizarre monkey-boy younger brother. ("Not Mother?") Lawrence cons money from female victims by proposing marriage, collecting funds, and only then introducing them to Ruprecht. Once the women meet Ruprecht, they break off the engagement, leaving their money behind and leaving Lawrence and Freddie to begin the scam all over again.

Catch Me If You Can

The movie is based on the life story of Frank Abagnale, known as one of history's most infamous social engineers.

While still just a teenager, Abagnale (Leonardo DiCaprio) runs away from home and manages to pose as Pan Am pilot and scam thousands of miles of free flights around the world. While he's at it, he also cashes millions of dollars in forged checks from Pan Am.

 

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