Identity Theft and Modern Technology

Identity is a hard thing to grasp philosophically. Not only does every cell in our bodies replace itself every 7 years (meaning you have had 3 completely new bodies by the time you are 21!), but our life experiences change the way we view ourselves and the way we act. So what explains the continuity of identity throughout our lives?

One answer is the sheer amount of personal information that builds up around us as we journey through life. Birth certificates, bank accounts, Facebook pages, phone contracts are just some of the bewildering amount of information that gets produced and stored about us and our daily activities in the modern world.

Most of us are not even aware of how much of ourselves we are leaving dotted around the place for other more nefarious individuals to pick up and use against us. You may be making yourself more of a target everyday by doing activities that you think are safe and secure.

Bear in mind that most technology works these days by storing data, either to make our lives easier (like the messages saved on our phones or the auto-complete functions of online forms) or so companies can use it to try and market themselves more directly at us.

Here are some things about identity theft and modern technology which you should do well to think about. 

Mobile Phones and Smart Phones

The recent UK state inquiry into the widespread practice of journalists and private investigators has brought the serious issues surrounding mobile phone security to a lot of people’s attention. Now that the majority of phones can connect to the internet, the risks of your data being mined have increased.

A recent study looked at 30 of the most popular apps for Android and found that around two thirds of them were storing and transmitting location data and gaining access to your email inbox. Apple has recently admitted that it stores user location data in an unencrypted file and it is also possible for someone hacking into your phone to turn on the microphone or camera without you knowing.  Which is all pretty scary, right?

Facebook, Twitter and Social Media

Social media has become a ubiquitous part of many of our lives but there are serious security related questions that need to be addressed.  The online protection company Symantec discovered a hole in Facebook in 2011 that allowed third parties (mostly advertising companies) to gain access to users account information and personal information. Worryingly, this information had the potential to allow these people to post as you on your own profile, and even more worryingly, Facebook seems to be absolutely fine with allowing this information to be sold on at a profit.

The problem of people hacking into your account is worse on Twitter, where the practice of breaking into celebrity accounts is far more pronounced. The problem here is that someone pretending to be a celebrity can then tell people to go to dodgy, virus strewn sites that can lead to their computers being compromised. 

Public Wi-Fi

If you remember the recent furor over Google gobbling up personal information from unsecured Wi-Fi addresses while driving around taking pictures for its street view feature, you may well have thought about the security of these networks.

A number of pieces of software, such as Firesheep and so called Typhoid software are specifically designed to remove cookie data from computers using open networks and can spread from machine to machine if they are close proximity to one another.

Now, I don’t mean to scare anyone with this information, just to educate and inform. I am definitely not saying  that we should come up with some kind of portable ID card printer which works by reading your fingerprint or something, because that would inevitable get hacked as well and then we would be in even more trouble.

Just be careful. Has anyone got any tips for helping to minimize these risks?

James Duvalis a freelance IT gun-for-hire who makes a living from teaching companies how to protect themselves from the bad things that lurk in the dark corners of the internet. When not doing this or blogging for companies such as IDPro, James likes to ride his hog through the countryside in search of historical sites.