Kidnapped

 

We hold an “arm’s length” perspective on social engineering until we become a victim. Allow me to introduce myself, I am a victim. Don’t stop reading, you’re going to want to know a few things about me.

 

First, I manage the cybersecurity awareness program at a University in Southern California.

 

I also had a stage career and taught theatre performance at a large university in the midwest. I say this because I know great acting. The social engineering scheme that I was victim of is called the Kidnap scheme. The actors were good. There were multiple actors. The script was crafted to leverage the psychology of terror that only a parent can know. They knew about me. They had me profiled.

 

The call came in on my cell with a Mexico country prefix. Ordinarily, I never would have answered. I would have employed the CIO’s mantra. “If you don’t know the number, let it go to voicemail”. But it just happened that weeks before, I had connected with a friend of a friend who lives in Mexico. That sound you hear off in the distance is the perfect storm approaching.

 

I answered expecting to hear a friendly voice. What I heard instead were to sobs of a young girl calling out: “Daddy help me, they tied me up and threw me in a van”, she went on “please don’t let them kill me daddy”…Even the background noise was authentic with sounds of a struggle as the antagonist grabbed the phone and called me by name. Yes, he knew my name. He knew I had a daughter. He had my profile. All the while, I could hear the child crying in the background. They followed the script expertly. “This is really happening, don’t hang up the phone or you won’t see your daughter again” (more crying in the background). He has my attention.

 

In my job, I spend hours pouring through the latest security material and had never read anything about the kidnap scheme. It was the IRS scam on acid. My wife was in the room, and she grabbed her phone to record the call which was on speaker. At the same time, she tried to call my daughter in the midwest and my son in the EU. I began to feel the paralytic grip of fear. My thoughts wavered, even though I am an IT professional, his words rang in my ear: “This is real. Get ahold of yourself you need to be calm and I will give you instructions”. I’m thinking about the girl’s voice, it was the right age, the right pitch…she always calls me daddy when she’s in trouble. Things are moving faster than my analytical mind can process them. The kidnapper is not leaving me any time, any space, he’s giving clear and concise commands that I must follow and reminding me of the consequences if I don’t.

 

I remember he told me to grab my phone and my car keys and head to my car. I was literally being hijacked psychologically. My brain started catching up with the nightmare and I regained just enough presence of mind to remind myself that this was a con; then I thought  “Wait! – what if this is real and it’s someone else’s kid?. I picked up my keys and headed to my car with my wife trailing, still trying to reach my kids. I am numb, caught between belief and disbelief; my professional self and my inner parent. I have to keep the game alive at least until my wife hears my real daughter’s voice.

 

The key was in the ignition when my wife ran up to the car and drew a finger across her neck, I knew she was screaming silently at me to hang up. Do it! Your daughter’s fine! I reached up and pressed -end call-.

 

5 seconds later the phone rings. Then again, then again and again. At this point I wonder how persistent they will be. All from a burner phone in Mexico. Untraceable.

 

Once my heart stopped pounding, I called the local PD. They were casual. They took my information and assured me that there was an ongoing investigation. No, they didn’t want me to file a report. Next I called the FBI and was met with a similar response.They were aware of the increased activity in Ventura County, and no there wasn’t anything they could do. They suggested I call the Federal Trade Commission. I just sat there, dumbfounded.

 

Teaching about social engineering and cyber crime is no longer a theoretical exercise. It is part of my life experience. I will be haunted by this experience for the rest of my life. This was ungodly. It was predation on a level I had never heard of much less experienced. These were highly skilled, well equipped, intelligent criminals without conscience. They used weaponized data. This was an experience of abject evil.

 

Until now I have stood in front of faculty and staff and described phishing and spam and man in the middle attacks. I’ve lectured on what could happen unless you take precautions. If anyone should have been able to dodge this bullet, it’s me. Please, please, don’t let it be you.

 

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Stand by for important information…

Another Uvi-book as Deb and I like to call them. And in the vernacular of the book’s time-period, this one is a hummdinger. I love how wonderfully Uvi writes. Her attention to detail creates characters in my head that are alive.

Actors create relationships with the characters we portray.  When we perform “live” the process is intense and immersive. Rehearsals begin, and the memorization, and the blocking and the tech, and the…  The process is different with the characters in an audio-book. You get to know them over time. Over months and years you engage with them. You find yourself in each new place they travel. It’s kinda like marriage. Marriage before Death you might even say.

Only they never die. Not really, because we wont let them. Their voices are full in my mind and full in the listener’s. And they last, well…forever.

The story that Lenny and Natasha are in this time is both intimate and epic.  It is our greatest pleasure to invite you into their world.

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Hope

Getting back to work again. Just editing the Epilogue and creating the intro and outro for a fabulous sequel to the last Uvi Poznansky novel I produced.  But there has been a hole you might say in your blog postings. You might say a fairly large hole in time. Which is at very least the stuff of a blog posting, at most a novel of my own.

Cancer caused a hole. I suppose the singular diagnosis that someone who uses their voice for a living doesn’t ever want to receive. Throat cancer.  Don’t freak out. This of course is what I told myself as well as my invitation to you.

It’s been a journey, so when I comment that the intervening period between my last blog post and now might contain the stuff of a blog post; you know a little bit more of the why’s and where’fores.

Cancer for me began this time (yes, I’ve already gone toe to toe once before and kicked it’s ass) with a weird steely determination. I was determined not to lose my voice. The two medicines which I relied on were determination and hope. Medical science of course had it’s own medicine to force feed me and as I have heard many a survivor say:  “the treatment is worse than the disease” – not sure if that’s ever completely true but I think it’s a coin toss you don’t care to make.

When matched against the powerful combo of meds and radiation and hope and determination – poor cancer just had to take another ass-whoopin. I feel bad.

So my dear reader, though I hope none of you ever have to face a dark night, know that if you do – it is possible to come out the other side and still wanna jump up and down, bark at the moon and record audio books. Not necessarily in that order.

 

AFA Letters

A really nicely done video from author Mary Campisi, who understands the power of video as a tool for promoting her work.

I recorded the voice of Charles Blacksworth narrating some lost letters that he had written to other major characters in her series “A Family Affair”. Initially her creative technologist posted these letters as 2D works with my voice-over. Today however they have kicked things up a huge notch by releasing a really nicely produced video. Very very captivating.

 

 

Life on Mars

lomad

I’m more than a little excited. I am, in fact going to live on Mars. I am very pleased to announce that I just signed a contract to produce an amazing audio book. This book is phase one in a unique approach to theatre (at least I’m pretty sure it’s unique). It starts as a song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v–IqqusnNQ transformed into a novel and will be produced as a musical in the UK in mid-2016.

Author Michael J. Dawson http://www.michaeljdawson.co.uk/ has written a novel based on this work of David Bowie. From the webpage for Life on Mars:“Life on Mars brings together so much of the spirit that has defined David Bowie and the world he created for us. Its the story of an ordinary guy who struggles to cope with his own alienation before finally discovering hidden strength is his individuality. Life on Mars is an androgenous love story that spans a thousand years.”

And finally, don’t miss the video promo that Mike has produced introducing this exciting project: http://www.lifeonmarsbook.com/

 

Wait for it…

That’s a running gag with a friend of mine. “Wait for it”…and it describes the feeling you get when reading well written psychological thrillers. Or not. Sometimes you don’t see it coming at all – so much more’s the thrill.

One of my clients is a young author from the UK with a very promising career ahead. My first work with Richard was “The Song of Kings” – an epic tome the sample for this work can be found on my samples page. This is the second book I have voiced for Richard Chance and it kept me up at night for two reasons. 1) Working into the wee hours and 2) Not sleeping because I had just recorded another chapter.

This title will be available on Amazon in a few short weeks, so in the meantime you’ll just have to: Wait for it…