Ten months ago, I came across Christopher Hadnagy’s Advanced Practical Social Engineering (hereafter referred to as APSE) training. When I saw he was offering the five-day course in Bristol, I knew I had to take it and contacted him for more information. I informed him that I was completely blind), and asked how much of the course was visual. He shortly replied by saying that a lot of this training was visual and he didn’t think I would get much out of it. He used a lot of Maltego and DR. Ekman’s materials, which I knew I could not use or study. I reviewed the syllabus, and in my opinion, the only visual” aspects were micro expressions and Maltego. I understood I could not learn these even if they were explained to me. It is extremely hard to learn facial expressions especially when you’re born blind. On the other hand, someone who has recently lost their sight will find it much easier to understand what is meant when an expression (anger, sadness, astonishment, etc) is described. As previously stated, those were the only visual aspects I found in the syllabus, but Hadnagy claimed otherwise. I agreed that a video is visual by nature, but persuaded him that one can still understand the overall picture by piecing together what is happening in that video, although there may be moments with action and no supplementary dialogue. I was not financially able to pay the course fees up front, and am grateful that Hadnagy accepted my monthly payments without much hassle.

About a week before the training, I emailed Hadnagy, reminding him to explain everything being displayed on-screen. His response:

“I will try to remember this, about the slides, but this was my fear I told you many many months ago Shaf. We use a ton of videos, a ton of slides, the first day is all a written test then slides full of videos – I am concerned on how much you will get out of the class.

I hope we can make it work.”

In other words, there were so many videos and slides that he could not explain each of them. Furthermore, he’d “try and remember” to explain. Sounds positive enough, but I still felt he wouldn’t make the effort to provide descriptions when necessary. No problem, I remained positive, hoping he would be as awesome as he was in his public presentations.

I also asked to make an audio recording for personal use, and I would have referred to those lectures as needed. Since I paid $3500, I deserved thorough notes (such as those from a recording). His response?

“Sorry I cannot allow for audio recording. We have a company rule on that.”

He has a company rule on not allowing audio recordings! I highly doubt that it is an official rule, but this was the response I expected. He undoubtedly knew I did not have notes and could not read the hard-copy materials other students received. Nevertheless, audio recordings were not permitted–probably because of piracy, even though I never intended to illegally distribute his work. I really hoped he would have been more accommodating during the five-day course. I remained positive and was greatly looking forward to meeting him.

Monday, May 11: the first day of APSE training. Chris and I met, and I asked to sit at the front so that communication with him would be easier. He told me that his assistant was going to help me (he brought him to assist all students), and that I would disturb the rest of the class if his assistant was explaining things to me while he was lecturing. I didn’t like that, but I stayed at the back hoping that my questions and comments would be acknowledged. His assistant did quite a good job explaining things, but I found dividing my attention between Chris and him very difficult.

The first day went really well. We did a DISC assessment which Chris’ assistant helped me fill out and graph. Chris had not prepared any materials for me, but I still managed to get it done. Chris then taught us the psychological aspects of social engineering. That was very easy to understand, and he did a good job of answering questions and concerns.

Tuesday: we moved onto Google Dorks–commands entered in Google to find either specific results on a domain or domains with specific criteria. I was very disappointed since Chris did not verbalise every command he was typing. I asked him during class to do so. He apologised and said he would. He spoke the commands out loud for a few minutes, then somehow forgot and did not acknowledge my hand raised to remind him. This is where sitting at the front would have been extremely convenient. If his assistant told me every command, I would not have been able to concentrate on Chris. During our lunch break, I felt extremely frustrated and Chris was busy talking to a certain student who constantly wanted his attention. Since I could not speak to him then, I sent him this email after his assistant asked him to email the commands he was using:

“Thanks. You need to remember to explain things on the screen more often. I’m not a mind reader.”

His response?

“I know this is why I was saying the visual aspects are very hard to understand when you can’t see.”

Sorry, but this is absolutely not a visual aspect. Perhaps it is visual to him since he is looking at the screen. If he had taken the time to say exactly what he was typing, I would have understood what he was writing. However, he claimed it took too much time, which you’ll see in an email below. The afternoon was based on Maltego. I didn’t participate much since the software is completely inaccessible, but I was still intrigued by how Maltego works.

Side note: There must be a way to make a comparative piece of software which works exactly like Maltego. Maltego is software which graphs, and allows user-manipulation of, open-source information. For example the graph of a project might include a domain, email addresses, social media profiles, etc. When I become proficient at programming in Python, I intend to work with the developers of Maltego and make this a reality. But that is not a project I have prioritised.

After completing Tuesday’s homework, I contacted Chris through IM to say I would sit at the front and reminded him he needed to explain things typed and shown on-screen. Later that night I received this email in response:

“Shaf,

I have given a lot of thought to your request. And I truly understand the dilemma – believe me, this is why I told you I felt it was going to be hard to grasp a lot of these concepts that I designed to be so visual. But I admired your drive and determination so decided to grant your request and give it a try. And I understand you are explaining things from your point of view… but the fact is having to explain all the details to a whole class for the sake of one student does slow us down and we are already behind.

Today’s topic was harder, but tomorrows will be much easier to be descriptive so I feel it will be more like the first day. Please try to remember, I mentioned many times that this would be harder. I knew this and that is why I brought [Redacted] along was to make sure you had a personal helper to ensure you got the most from the course and the class could move at a steady pace.

So I am sure you will understand but I have to request that you please continue as planned and have [Redacted] help you when needed in the back and I will try my hardest to be better at explaining the slides in more detail.

Thanks bro”

That email looked really convincing. Chris is great at manipulation–why shouldn’t it be? I still felt he was thinking about himself and not me. Explaining and verbalizing commands would not have slowed the class down; the class was already behind because the aforementioned student took 15 minutes of Chris’s time asking irrelevant questions, and he didn’t care about that. Explanations of class material would have benefited the other students, not just me. Furthermore, Chris’ assistant was not there solely to ‘help me’. He came to assist everyone. Chris usually brings someone to assist with classes; I have heard this first hand. My response to his email, written at approximately 4 AM?

“The short answer to your email is that I cannot accept what you wrote and that you clearly don’t understand the situation I’m in. You have had more than six months to prepare for this, and it is not even a huge request. You make it seem as though teaching a blind person is a very hard job, and that it takes a lot of effort to do so. This is far from the truth, which again should be obvious from your interactions with me. But speaking with someone who is not going to understand is just like speaking to a brick wall, which I am not going to do. Therefore, I refer you back to my previous emails. The reason why we are delayed in the training is mostly because a certain person keeps asking questions for 30 minutes straight without stopping or giving other people a chance to ask questions. The delay does not have anything to do with me asking you to describe something on the screen. Any instructor would be more than happy to do this. I paid $3500 out of pocket. I did not get a company to pay for me, and I did not get any funding for this training. I did not expect to have to explain something so obvious multiple times to my instructor.

TL;DR: You are being unreasonable, I am happy to sit at the front and engage with you like any other student would.”

Yes, most students’ had their employers pay for this training. I did pay out of pocket whilst unemployed. The email above was firm and to the point. I could not have found a better way of explaining the situation to him. His response?

“Shaf,

I told you before you came that I was not going to alter the course. Telling me I had six months to prepare is unfair. I will give you a partial refund for the course if you are unhappy.

I never said that you were the reason we are delayed. Delays happen for many reasons like questions, or longer explanations or side topics…. All cause delays. But to now have to explain each letter of a google dork would have taken much much longer.

You may sit where you like if you are going to interact like any other student but I cannot be asked to repeat every slide all day. I am sorry you are unhappy, but again over these six months I mentioned many many times how hard this would be for you and for me and offered you a refund then too.

Finally shaf, I have 12 students to care for in addition to you, and I refuse to be spoken to our treated disrespectfully. Calling me a brick wall in unacceptable. I have brought an extra person all the way to the UK for your personal aide, we have served you water and food every day and we have helped you extensively as you needed and accommodated you the best I can, so telling me I am a brick wall is insulting.”

First of all:

“we have served you water and food every day”

Yes, that was being offered with the course, and it had been included in the price–definitely not an accommodation or special requirement. It clearly states so on his website. My response:

“Telling me the stuff you did previously was insulting. But I remained patient. This has nothing to do with food and water and unrelated topics. I feel insulted, not you.”

His response:

“Shaf, I will give you a refund. I think it is best we part ways. Thank you for coming.”

In other words, either put up with it or take a refund. I did not want a refund; I had been looking forward to this course for months and I wasn’t about to leave half-way through it. So I continued joining the class.

Wednesday morning: Maltego once again. Then we were taught more manipulation, influence and communication techniques. It was awesome and I learned a lot. We also did a little Google Dorking, and Chris’s assistant (not Chris) emailed me the codes he knew of at my request.

For most of Thursday and Friday we studied micro expressions and body language. Chris’ assistant helped me a little with body language, but I could not understand much because it was very visual. We all knew that explaining micro expressions was useless, so I just listened and took in as much as I could.

On Friday, after the training had ended, I told Chris that I would be writing a review of the training. He told me that if my review was negative because of the visual aspects, he would release a copy of our emails to prove I had been informed that he could not accommodate me where he was concerned. We parted ways on good terms. He said I didn’t need to complete the Ekman training for the certification; I was very grateful for this. On Sunday, I emailed him to ask if he had a text copy of the course book given the other students. The entire thread of our conversation is below:

“Chris,

Thanks for a mostly amazing 5 days. Do you have a copy of the other course texts? All I have is the DISC.

If you do send an electronic copy, it will stay with only me.”

“We do not have electronic copies for students. Sorry.”

“OK. Are you able to please send a hard copy through the post?”

“Yes sorry I didn’t think you could use one so I didn’t bring it.

What is your address?”

Even though I told him I have a portable scanner?

“No problem.

I’ll see if I can scan the text. [Address]”

“We do not want digital copies of the material that would break copyright law”

“There would be no digital copies of the material that would break copyright law. Also, scanning a copy of the material for personal use for somebody such as me who is disabled is not in any violation of any copyright law. You’re welcome to Google the relevant information.”

“You cannot quote copyright law as we have lawyers that study this stuff.

Sorry but you will not get a copy that you can makes to a digital copy.”

“You have been treating me most unfairly ever since I decided to take your course. If your lawyers thoroughly studied copyright legislation, they would have informed you of your legal and moral obligation to provide written course materials in an accessible format, considering 40 CPE credits are granted to those who are eligible and passed successfully. I have spoken to my friend who practices human rights law. She was quite dismayed that, after my persistence in asking you for accommodations, and determination to be successful in your course, you still undoubtedly refused to grant me the assistance I required. She informed me that I was being discriminated against on the basis of my disability and that you have not fulfilled your responsibility of providing me an accessible copy of your course materials. I sincerely hoped we worked together so that you would have been the instructor most accommodating of my needs, and I the visually-impaired student who not only learned valuable lessons you taught, but broadened your teaching experience. I had absolutely no intention of making your course materials publicly available; scanning them is simply required so that they can be read by my screen-reader as I demonstrated to you in class. Someone is not always available to read texts aloud, which is why I rely on a scanner. Therefore, I am as entitled as every other student to an accessible copy of your course materials.”

“Shaf,

I told you 8 times, all in writing, that this course was not and will not be designed for visually impaired people. If you do have a friend in human law then she will tell you I am under no obligation to change the curriculum for anyone regardless of race, religion, disability or any other means. The course is what it is. Just like Harvard or any other school, there are criteria for getting in to the course, and I tried to tell you that – no i did tell you that over 8 times.

I am offended that you continue to focus on your own needs and how you say I am being “unfair” when it seems that just because of your disability you expect to be treated differently that all other students.

I brought a full time employee all the way to the UK with the sole purpose of sitting with you and walking you through every little step. You had two students, non-paid, caring for your every move and even though you got all that, you continue to demand more and more and more.

I am done discussing this matter, any other enquiries will have to go through my lawyers.

One final note you can run past your “friend” who is a human lawyer… my copyright notification states:

@2015 Social-Engineer, LLC – No part of this publication, in whole or in part, may be reproduced, copied, transferred or any other right reserved to its copyright owner, including photocopying and all other copying, any transfer or transmission using any network or other means of communication, any broadcast for distance learning, in any form or by any means such as any information storage, transmission, or retrieval system, without prior written permission from the author”

As the author I am clearly NOT giving any permission in writing to reproduce or copy any part of of my publication. And in the future if you want to ask for special consideration, consider using some SE skills to build rapport and not demand from the instructor special consideration whilst insulting him/her.

I wish you the best in life.”

Sorry, but I will not build rapport with ignorant and arrogant people. He was being mean from my first email in which I expressed interest in the course. “You had two students, non-paid, caring for your every move” No, more than six people helped me, and for that I cannot thank them enough. Their generosity and kind spirit meant a great deal to me. You know who you are, thank you for everything you did to help me and for understanding my situation. Chris was not willing to accommodate me during class. Even though I asked him multiple times to verbalise commands he typed or explain elements on-screen, he ‘forgot’ or hardly explained anything. His assistant did a great job whenever he could, and I thanked him for that.

During those five days, I made some truly wonderful friends and connections, from whom I learned quite a lot. Again, if you are reading this, thank you for what you have done. The only way I can show my appreciation is to thank you for everything and wish you the best in your future endeavors with the knowledge you have gained. I feel extremely hurt at how Chris treated me regarding this training. I read his first and third books. They were amazing, and I was really looking forward to meeting their author. The way he acted in person was unexpected. I must learn from this experience. I am disappointed that he cannot even provide me an electronic copy of the course materials which other students received in print. He told me he has an electronic copy but will not share for copyright reasons, when the law clearly grants the right of a student with a disability to receive their course materials in an accessible format. I am considering filing a lawsuit against him for discrimination, but I am still in discussion with the relevant parties and will soon decide what should be done. I will most likely let this rest; I strongly believe in karma and I do not wish to fight against an individual who knows he’s done wrong. He can keep the money that I paid him; I don’t need it. I hope it serves him well in life.

Chris is a master at manipulation. He’s welcome to counter this post with his own ‘facts’ and leak more emails, but please, readers, judge the facts for what they are. I have never been discriminated against academically, and Chris has shown me what that feels like. I do not wish anyone who is disabled to go through what I did, but the fact is that people will be discriminated against based on their disability, and we have to deal with it in the best way possible. It’s a fact of life and it’s extremely stressful. Try not to let it get the better of you. I urge anyone going through a similar experience to talk to someone–anyone who will listen–about it. Staying silent is not the answer and will not improve your situation. There are definitely people who will listen and guide you in the right direction. Talk to them and understand that if they spend time listening to you, they genuinely do care and want to help.

Would I recommend the APSE training? If you have the money or your company is paying for it–sure. Should a visually-impaired person take this course? Probably not. You will go through what I went through, unless Chris changes his attitude in the future. And I sincerely hope he does for his own good and everyone else’s. The course has lots of valuable information, and I did learn many communication skills. However, it is definitely not worth $3500 (and the price rises).

Thank you very much for taking the time to read through this, and I welcome your comments.

-Shaf

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