Monday, June 27, 2011

Identity Theft On The Rise As Tech Giants Struggle To Prevent Crime

Almost 10 million Americans learned they were victims of identity fraud in 2008, up from 8.1 million victims in 2007. As casual Internet use has become even more common, research and security professionals estimate that information crimes have continued to increase, despite increased protection from viruses and hackers. Why is this identity protection failing?

There are three basic types of identity thieves: online crooks, online spies and a new breed of political criminal called Hacktivists. The popularity of online shopping, social media and overall increased browsing has made online crime more attractive and led identity thieves to get creative. A technique called phishing—which earlier this month was used to obtain thousands of prominent e-mail addresses, passwords and other sensitive information from government officials and CEOs through GMail, Yahoo Mail and Hotmail—uses real-looking e-mails to fool readers into clicking a link or entering a password to an untrustworthy source.

Revealing personal information on Facebook is a prominent example of what can go wrong when users neglect identity protection. Oftentimes, phishers will send a fake message from a user you are friends with, asking you to click a link. When you do, you are taken to what you think is Facebook to log in but you are actually turning your username and password over to identity thieves. This can be used for simple spying or, since many people use the same passwords for everything, even financial gain. Phishers also create e-mail forms that look like they are coming from your bank, asking you for account information and other sensitive information.

During the WikiLeaks scandal, the imprisonment of founder Julian Asange angered his ardent supporters, who supported the transparency the WikiLeaks document dumps represented. In protest, sites who blocked donations to Asange's legal defense—Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, Amazon—were the victims of thousands of hack attacks that crippled servers and caused a small financial panic. These 'Hackivists' used information obtained through identity theft to break into these servers.

To avoid being a victim of identity theft, there are several things you can do. Hiding your IP address is a good start. Using a proxy server, you can confuse identity thieves into thinking you are at one IP address when in fact, your IP address is hidden in a virtual private network, or VPN. VPN services allow you to browse undetected, protect yourself from phishing and even give you a dummy e-mail address you can use for online websites you don't trust.

The best way to stack the deck against getting your personal information taken is by using identity protection software when using the Internet. Visit today to learn more about our online protection services.