SecurityBrief New Zealand - Technology news for CISOs & cybersecurity decision-makers
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Identity theft is on the rise — users must respond

The results of Javelin's annual identity fraud report showed that 2017 was a landmark year for online criminals. Not only did the previous year host the largest number of total victims, it also bore witness to more diverse methods, especially in relation to non-credit card fraud.

Two major factors contributed to the rise of alternative methods of identity theft. First, the increased security of EMV (Europay, Mastercard and Visa) chips have made credit card-based fraud a less appealing option. Second, as criminals moved to alternative forms of identity theft, they found thousands of easy victims in the wake of major data breaches—Equifax is the most prominent, but there were several major ones recorded in the past year.

Underused defenses

The statistics call for more caution in online activity in terms of security software and, perhaps more importantly, users' security practices. Unfortunately, current statistics are rather disheartening. A study by Digital Guardian showed that password reuse remains a common problem, especially among young users. Meanwhile, a study by Symantec revealed that most people maintain a misplaced trust in public Wi-Fi networks—or at least the unearned confidence that they won't be targets of crime.

These statistics belie the availability of information security options available to the public. Password managers, for instance, are widely available and easy to use. They are capable of creating passwords more secure than most people can generate—or at least more secure than the ones people can remember—and can store them with exceptional security. They're an easy solution to the weak or reused passwords.

Meanwhile, virtual private network (VPN) services, which provide powerful and flexible encryption, as well as IP address concealment, are also largely ignored. Despite services at various price points, targeting casual users to IT experts, VPNs go largely ignored—only around 25% of people use them, according to Symantec's research.

Securing the future

While individual safety practices definitely need a boost, collective action can ensure better baseline security for all users. With concerted efforts on the part of security experts or organisational leaders, it's possible to make identity theft harder to perpetrate, reducing the burden on casual users, many of whom could be daunted by the complexity of some security measures.

Businesses and organisations, for example, would do well to guard against rising incidences of email scams. Spear-phishing and whaling have become more common in recent years. These call for new defenses, apart from older counter-phishing measures.

Some parties are trying to tackle the problem on a wider perspective. Kaspersky, for example, is launching an internet security awareness campaign in Asia. By focusing on personal accounts of identity theft, it's hoping to shatter the myth that such crimes are rare and, so doing, encourage people to better protect themselves online.

Meanwhile, the Wi-Fi Alliance, the governing body for Wi-Fi standards, unveiled the WPA3 security protocol earlier this year. Improvements include stronger safeguards against people trying to guess passwords and improved security for various smart devices in the Internet of Things.

Of course, identity theft isn't a purely online phenomenon. Criminals can use details found in the post or from discarded documents. So while stronger baseline security will hopefully reduce the incidence of identity theft, it ultimately falls to individuals to exercise more caution.

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