Heres the lineup: 200 of the richest people in the United States vs. a scruffy-looking pot scrubber armed with a copy of Forbes and sitting at a wheezing computer at the New York Public Library. Final score: busboy 200, rich folks zippo. I was walking down Park Avenue toward our Manhattan office when I saw the final city edition of the New York Post with the big, fat headline "Master Thief, How a Brooklyn busboy scammed worlds top moguls." The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal could wait, and the back-page story on Golden Glover Chuck Knoblauch being banished to the Yanks left field could wait as I opened to Page 4 to find out how Abraham Abdallah allegedly stole the identities and maybe millions of bucks from the best and the brightest in the world of business.
OK, this was no cryptomeister able to crack the 128-bit Advanced Encryption Standard. This was no computer-cracking expert with a bizarro name and the patience to poke into every port to find an opening. This, at least as much as I could derive from the two-page, solidly reported story by Murray Weiss, was a guy using a combination of paper; the Web; and too easily duped credit agencies, banks and brokerage houses to gain astonishing access. Once youve figured out how to pose as one of the top dogs, the next 199 are easy.
Among the accounts allegedly breached were those of Steven Spielberg, Martha Stewart, George Lucas, Larry Ellison, Paul Allen and Ted Turner. He skipped Bill Gates because he was "too well-known," according to the report. The first big tip-off to the scam appeared to come when he allegedly tried to transfer $10 million from the account of Siebel Systems founder Tom Siebel. When he wasnt pretending to be the rich and the famous, Abdallah was scrubbing pots and pans at a New York restaurant, according to the report.
Timing is everything. The account of Abdallahs alleged identity-theft crime spree came at the same time Microsoft was introducing its HailStorm product in Redmond. Central to the HailStorm idea is a turbocharged version of Microsoft Passport.
The Passport concept makes great sense. It moves identification to the user rather than the device. But before Passport or several competing products can be adopted, the hurdles to overcome are many.
The more information becomes concentrated in one area, the more that information becomes a lucrative target. The more individual information is accumulated, the greater the corporate responsibility to secure, protect and prevent that information from becoming a traded commodity like potatoes or pork bellies. And until companies can assure an increasingly skeptical public that their digital personalities can be protected from a Brooklyn busboy allegedly pretending to be Ted Turner, the promised land of digital commerce will remain unreached.