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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.

Abagnale also successfully pretends to be a doctor and a teacher before he is ultimately caught by the FBI (years later).


Penetration testers before it became a common security career, Martin Bishop (Robert Redford) and his team are paid to break into companies that want to put their security put to the test.

In one scene Martin and teammate Carl (River Phoenix) create a distraction at the front desk of a secure building. Carl, posing as a delivery person, insists he be let in to make a delivery; while he argues with the guard, an increasingly agitated Martin waits behind him posing as a father late for his daughter's birthday party being held upstairs. He eventually gets through by barking at the guard, still engaged in a fight with Carl, to "push the damn buzzer!"

Six Degrees of Separation

"The finest example" of a social engineering example in film, according to Sileo.

Inspired by the true story of con artist David Hampton, Will Smith plays Paul, a young man who manages to fool the wealthy New York City couple Ouisa and Flan Kittredge (Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland).

Paul shows up at the Kittredges' Fifth Avenue home one night, bleeding and asking for assistance. He claims to be the son of actor Sidney Poitier, and also says he knows the Kittredges' children, two of whom attend Harvard University.

Paul is well-spoken, charming and a skilled cook. After some time, he wins the Kittredge family over. They lend him money and allow him to stay with them for the night. After the experience is over, the Kittredges are shocked to learn Paul is a con man who has scammed many other wealthy families in their social circle as well.

"He uses all kinds of techniques," said Sileo. "He appeals to their humanity, he charms them, he appeals to their sense of familiarity by claiming he met their son at Harvard, so it is obvious he did some background research. That's exactly what is happening on social networking now. But today, you don't have to walk up to an apartment to pull this kind of thing off. A person's association with others you know on a place like Facebook makes them seem trustworthy."


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