As part of my doctoral research in techno-ethics, I am in a running dialog with some excellent students involved in PhoenixConnect’s Information Systems and Technology Community. PhoenixConnect is the the University of Phoenix’s social network. The branch of the discussion that follows is from a thread I started on Ethics and Technologists. The subject revolves around the debate as to whether or not to hire former hackers as security consultants. I have seen the devastating affect that pathological narcissists have in companies, families, and society in general. The following is a response to a person’s questions related to the issue of the notorious criminal, Frank Abagnale, Jr., being a free man that is a multimillionaire in his post crime life.
Movies like Catch Me if you Can concern me because they glamorize the criminal and the crime. They also give away vital information. For example, in one scene, Frank Abagnale, Jr., the real-life perpetrator of the crimes, played by Leo DiCaprio, microcodes a check. Unlike the TV show McGyver that always left out something, Catch Me… left out nothing. I used to be a bank teller so I know first-hand how to microcode a check. Even though Abagnale got caught in the movie, as he did in real life, the movie ended with the following information (this is from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catch_Me_If_You_Can)
The ending credits reveal that Frank has been happily married for 26 years, has three sons, lives in the Midwest, is still good friends with Carl, has caught some of the world’s most elusive money forgers, and earns millions of dollars each year because of his work creating unforgeable checks.
Before that, Abagnale worked for the FBI as part of his prison sentence. Granted, he lost the love of his life and his father died while he was in prison, but ultimately, he ended up as a happily married millionaire.
There is a psychological condition called Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The following is also from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narcissistic_personality_disorder#DSM-IV-TR_301.81),
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fourth edition, DSM IV-TR, a widely used manual for diagnosing mental disorders, defines narcissistic personality disorder (in Axis II Cluster B) as:
- A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
- Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
- Requires excessive admiration
- Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
- Is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
- Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
- Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
It is also a requirement of DSM-IV that a diagnosis of any specific personality disorder also satisfies a set of general personality disorder criteria.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder goes far beyond vanity. Narcissists believe they are better and smarter than the rest of society. In my opinion, Frank Abagnale, Jr. was/is a narcissist. Granted, my psychology degree was only an undergrad degree, but it is easy to spot one of these folks. Many serial killers are narcissists. They continue to kill because they think they are smarter than the police. Fortunately, in many cases, their egos get the best of them and they get sloppy. That’s when they get caught. Ted Bundy was the consummate narcissist. Not only did he kill for years without getting caught, but when he was caught, he immediately declared his innocence. He even represented himself in court and nearly won. During a near final cross-examination, he asked the officer that observed one of the bodies to describe what he saw. The gruesome description is what many feel lost the case for him. There are some, myself included, who saw the case being tried and are convinced the Bundy threw the case at that point. I think that he didn’t want to go free; he just wanted to prove one more time how much smarter he was.
Even though I have no data, I tend to agree with you that these are probably rare cases. However, narcissists believe they are capable of being the exception. Look at the Wikipedia page on Kevin Mitnick (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_mitnick). The first picture of him shows him with a big smile and a t-shirt that says, “I’m not a hacker, I’m a ‘Security Professional’.” He is indeed a security professional, author of multiple books, and is the recipient on endless adulation. Scroll down to the bottom where he is embracing a few of his hacker buddies. They are all smiles. Why wouldn’t they be? The one on the left is now a successful security consultant. The one on the right is the news editor for Wired.com.
You mentioned the ex-black-hat would be very carefully watched. I agree with you 100%. However, we are dealing with the narcissist. A successful post-apprehension ex-black-hat no longer has the need for money, if that was even their motive in the first place. However, there is nothing stopping such a person for developing protégés. The narcissist can sit back and get his needs fulfilled by simply reading the newspapers and watching the news. It’s a lot easier for a mentor to cover his tracks than it is for a perpetrator.
There is one other aspect of cyber-crime that is scariest of all. Old-fashioned bank robbers had to break into a bank with a very high risk of capture. Today, a genius hacker can be anywhere and rob a bank. He could be sitting in ship in international waters or he could be holed up in a foreign nation with no extradition agreement with the US. We worry about extremists like Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden because they blow up buildings. I’m more concerned about an ever-increasing number of people with phenomenal computing skills and not a shred of ethical conviction.