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Innovation in Information Security

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Snake Oil Salesmen in Identity Theft Protection

As the importance of Information Security has gained public awareness over the last several years, one of the main aspects which has attracted the most awareness and attention is the issue of Identity Theft and the many different ways that it can take place. Predictably, companies began to emerge that claimed to assist consumers and businesses with not only protecting them against identity theft but also helping people once theft had been identified and perpetrated.

Aside from a few basic precautions, there isn't much that can be done to mitigate against such theft. With almost all of these basic precautions being free, the companies set up to sell these services to consumers are tapping into a lack of awareness from consumers as to how simple it is to defend against theft. With monitoring for cases of identity theft and the processes for addressing recovery, again there are only a limited set of options available to people - mostly free or low cost. Identity theft protection and monitoring companies tap into the same resources, so there is little being value added other than having someone else take responsibility for your identity.

These companies are selling peace of mind for processes that are cheaper and often easier to do yourself, so they need to find some way to differentiate themselves from their competitors and attract customers and give the impression that the services they offer actually work and are much better than what you can already do yourself (they're not).

One of the most public examples of this attempted differentiation, probably closer to hubris, is the example provided by LifeLock, which included their CEO's social security number as part of their advertising material as part of their claims that their processes were enough to protect people against identity theft. Only, it didn't quite work and now another company is stepping forward to offer their own identity theft services to the CEO after there were numerous examples of successful identity theft perpetrated against him.

Information Technology companies in general, and Information Security companies in particular, are often regarded as nothing more than snake oil salesmen, pushing software and services that rarely live up to the marketing hype and promises. If the US Federal Trade Commission has taken enough notice of your business practices to slap you with a $12 million fine (as happened with LifeLock), then this sort of perception is only reinforced.

Identity theft (really nothing more than personal fraud) is a problem, and it is a concern for all consumers with the ease by which financial services and commitment can be arranged without accurate identity verification. The most effective and most secure means to protect against it remains personal vigilance over your financial activity (real and reported) and care with sensitive personal documentation.

23 May 2010

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