What can we learn from the theft of the Mona Lisa?

That it was a flawless Social Engineering strategy that netted an petty Italian criminal The Mona Lisa, also known as La Gioconda and that it’s the most famous painting in the world because of its audacious theft from the Louvre in 1911.

Social Engineering is now the scourge of modern business crime, and still the techniques employed in using it are the same as they were 100 years ago, and just as successful! The only difference is now we have a great many tools and techniques to protect ourselves against this kind of attack. Cyber Wise employs a blended approach to protect against Social Engineering attacks, thoroughly researched and tried and tested to give your business the best chance of rebutting or surviving a Social Engineering attack.

The plan to steal The Mona Lisa was simple!

The story starts with a man who worked at the Louvre making protective cases for some of the museum’s most famous works. He simply hid in a broom cupboard to avoid being thrown out at closing time. During the night, he rolled up the masterpiece and hid her under a working smock.

The next day, a plumber named Sauvet came upon an unidentified man stuck in front of a locked door. The man, wearing a white smock, like all the Louvre’s maintenance staff, pointed out to Sauvet that the doorknob was missing. The helpful Sauvet opened the door with his key and some pliers. The man walked out of the museum and hidden under his smock was Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’. In fact, no one else noticed either; as photographers often took paintings off their hooks to take to their studios, so security presumed the photographers had it. When an artist arrived to sketch her and security followed it up, it was only then that they realised she had been stolen from right under their noses!

‘This could never happen to us’ said the museum’s director!

Jean Th’ophile Homolle, director of all of France’s national museums, announced to the press before leaving on his summer holidays that the Louvre was secure:

‘You might as well pretend that one could steal the towers of the cathedral of Notre-Dame’. However, critics pointed out that lackadaisical security at the Louvre had allowed this to happen, although hubris almost certainly played a major part in its abduction!

After the theft, the French journalist Francis Charmes commented

‘La Gioconda was stolen because no-one thought she could be’.

Returning The Mona Lisa

Vicenzo Perrugia kept the Mona Lisa on his kitchen table for two years, whilst ‘he fell in love with her’ and it was not until November 1913, that Perugia wrote to an art dealer in Florence and offered to bring the painting to Italy for a reward of 500,000 lire. He took the painting to Geri’s gallery, who persuaded him to leave it for expert examination and the police arrested Perugia later that day.

There we have it, an Italian petty criminal called Vincenzo Perrugia employed the simplest of techniques; a mixture of basic psychology, subject research and complacency, to execute a flawless Social Engineering strategy that netted him the Mona Lisa, in what is now the most famous art heist the world has ever seen.

Is the original THE original?

As for the great painting, it was duly returned to the Louvre and has hung there safely and enigmatically ever since, or has it? Perhaps Peruggia never stole the original Mona Lisa after all. There is still a debate whether the Mona Lisa that is hung in the Louvre is the original as there are 3 other ‘Mona Lisa’s’ attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci, or painted under his instruction by a student.

How can we be sure that the Mona Lisa you can see today (albeit behind inches thick, bulletproof glass) is even the real deal, The portrait that was painted by Leonardo Da Vinci? Well, carbon dating suggests that the Mona Lisa in the Louvre does, indeed date back to the 16th Century. However, another earlier painting of the Mona Lisa exists, which is also thought to have been painted by Leonardo Da Vinci. Many now believe that Leonardo painted both copies of the Mona Lisa (the one in the Louvre being a later edition).

Do you know which is the ‘original’? Click here to go back to the quiz page and take a guess.