New technology more likely to worsen identity theft

A reliance on technology to solve security problems is misguided, claims a British academic. She also says that not enough is being done to study the way in which real pieces of information about an individual could allow a criminal to steal their identity.

In a lecture, ‘Life-swapping in cyber suburbia – the problem of stolen identity and the Internet’, at the BA Festival of Science in Dublin, Dr Finch of the University of East Anglia argues that far from solving the problems of identity theft, advances in technology will only make matters worse.

Her conclusions could give the British government pause for thought as it pushes ahead with the introduction of identity cards.

The government has all along insisted that the biometric data keyed into the cards will make counterfeiting them impossible and thus provide a secure method of proving an individual’s identity. Not so says Dr Finch. A reliance of technology is likely to make surveillance authorities complacent.

‘There is a worrying assumption that advances in technology will provide the solution to identity theft whereas it is possible that they may actually aggravate the problem,’ Dr Finch said.

She argues that a determined hacker – whether politically or financially motivated will always find a way around the system.

‘Our research has shown that fraudsters are tenacious, merely adapting their strategies to circumvent new security measures rather than desisting from fraudulent behaviour’ she says. ‘Studying the way that individuals disclose sensitive information would be far more valuable in preventing identity fraud than the evolution of technologically advanced but ultimately fallible measures to prevent the misuse of personal information after it has been obtained’

Dr Finch says that it is far better to warn individuals of what they might be giving away in casual conversation. For example she points out that visitors to chat rooms may give away more than they intend about themselves because the normal visual and audible cues that enable us to establish truth or deception are missing, and that often people forget they are chatting to real people at the other end. The effect is compounded because they themselves have a ‘virtual’ version of themselves that they may believe protects them.

Finally Dr Finch punctures the myth that identity theft is all about money. Fragments of non-financial information allow a fraudster to build an accurate picture of the person which can also be used in obtaining identify documents.

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