ONLINE SERVICE PROVIDERS MUST PROTEC
dentity theft refers to illegal acquisition of another individual’s personal information to be used fraudulently for illegal gain. Identity theft has become a problem in recent years and promises to become a bigger problem in the future. It is a global crime with fastest rising profile and costs. There are several ways in which an offender steals personal information and there are several types of crimes committed by using another person’s identity.
A con artist, in order to carry out an attack, would need neither a lot of money, nor proximity to his target. Information about you collected from public domains, from your friends, relations or colleagues, a look over your shoulder at the Bank’s ATM, a visit to the garbage of mortgage companies and department stores that throw away paperwork and receipts with customers’ social security numbers and other personal information on it is all he needs to tap into your real identity and files.
The invention of modern computers which simplify work, engender instantaneous communication, eliminate space and time and reduce costs, opened another dimension to identity theft and associated crimes. The internet extended the frontiers of identity theft, simplified methods of illegally obtaining personal information and opened windows for crime commission using another person’s identity.
Websites offer a wealth of personal information and this information is obtainable with little or no effort or cost to the predators. Hackers also penetrate corporate databases and e-commerce websites from the comfort of their homes; so do skimmers and other sundry cyber criminals.
These unscrupulous predators, including con artists, professionals and telemarketers search the internet and other public domains ceaselessly for personal information to aid their legal or illegal practices. Researches have also proved that hackers’ groups control hundreds of automated search robot networks that could be used to gather personal information about individuals and or attack any systems.
The government is culpable in this act of illegally obtaining citizen’s personal information. In order to protect the public against variety of crimes and maintain national security against spies, saboteurs and terrorists, government plays prominent role in the intelligence community in counterintelligence and counterterrorism activity to identify, prevent and disrupt terrorists and other criminals.
In Nigeria, for instance, the government has put citizen’s Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts under the Department of State Services (DSS) surveillance. Through covert operations, which have been going on for a while, security agencies hack into the Facebook and Twitter accounts of those they are monitoring or on Watch List.
The project which is being coordinated by some foreign firms, including an Israeli firm, Elbit System involves hacking of phones, email accounts, social media accounts, and bugging of phone conversations of persons of interest. The technology has proved to be effective in assisting the security agencies to nip some crimes in the bud and frustrate many terror plots and attacks across the country; the electronic trackers have also been useful in tracking and apprehending kidnappers; and the electronic surveillance system is as well effective and has the capacity to hack emails, passwords, and social media accounts.
In all this, how secure is Nigeria visa vise foreign firms carrying out such sensitive security operations? Do we have the capacity to monitor movement of sensitive data? How protected is our national secrets? A nation’s secret is as important as individual’s personal information. Competitive confrontation on the international level becomes fierce with every passing day and information is the weapon of this warfare. Can we boast of being on top our national secrets when our arsenals are under the control of one or more of our competitors?
In the year 2000, it was reported in the British press that Israeli agents had been able to hack into the White House email system and recover information being sent from the President to Senior Staff in the National Security Council and outside government departments.
According to Michael Benson, Danny O. Coulson, and Allan Swenson (2003), “Agents were successfully able to infiltrate Telrad, a subcontractor of Nortel, the Telecommunications company that helped to develop the White House system”.
The report observed that chips installed during the development process enable data to be shunted to a secret Israeli computer in Washington. The information was then transferred to Tel Aviv several times a week.
The United States of America has developed and perfected software that can search email traffic for specific senders, recipients, and keywords. The email searching programme was originally called “Carnivore”, but later the name was changed to the less ominous DCS 1000. There is also another programme called “Magic Lantern”, which can record the number of keystrokes on targeted computers. This is useful in determining whether a computer is being used to send encoded messages.
The fear of a repeat 9/11 is the beginning of the dismantling of natural/fundamental human rights of individual and corporate Americans. Hitherto, human rights was the foundation of American national identity but, 9/11 helped to erode these rights, especially the right to privacy; it also made the whole world to surrender freedom in exchange for security, which government is finding very difficult and expensive to provide.
Governments all over the world today hide under the cover of terrorism and war against crimes to perpetuate all kinds of atrocities, including excessive taxations. Electronic listening and recording devices are placed here and there all over where valuable information may be recorded and used to obtain information of conversations at meetings, individual phone calls or other situations. Many types of bugs are today in use across the world.
If you are one of the many Nigerians who are unaware that they could be monitored even in the comfort of their homes; that their phone call conversations could be bugged and/or their emails, Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts could be hacked by government agencies, con artists, telemarketers, or professionals, then watch out!
Recently, I undertake an online registration with a University. In less than thirty minutes after filling and submitting the registration forms, I got offers from no fewer than twenty universities offering me place through emails and telephone calls.
How did these universities get my personal information such as name, telephone number, email address and so on? Is personal information about prospective, existing and previous students shared freely among institutions without the consent of the individual concern? Where a third party illegally obtained personal information, fraudulently utilize it, and the victim suffers loss who is to blame or who bears the cost? Are online service providers not supposed to provide efficient and effective information security for their customers, whether prospective, existing or previous? Citizens find themselves wrapped in an endless web, tossed by dangerous piercing weapons covertly monitoring all his activities from all angles – government security agencies, professionals, telemarketers and the ever increasing number of con artists.
Take the university system, for instance, we are aware that in the process of filling necessary documents and other requirements for admission and study several sensitive personal, financial and medical information are communicated online, which necessitate tertiary institutions to stay ahead of scammers to stop the abuse at the source. In other words, schools must design and institute a cybersecurity strategy to protect personal information system from intrusion and attack.
Apart from protecting database, it is the responsibility of institutions to check and block all avenues of information leakages online since there are many legal and illegal individuals and organizations that benefits therefrom, perhaps to the detriment of unsuspecting students.
Because there are many individuals and groups who might focus on illegal acquisition of other people’s personal information for fraudulent uses, online service providers must continue to develop more effective shields in various ways and places.
On the other hand, online forms and questionnaires should be designed as to reduce the amount of personal information that can be gathered by predators online if the connection security is not guaranteed. Thinking about what may be helpful to an adversary prior to posting any personal information to the web could eliminate much vulnerability. Reviewing all personal information for sensitivity and ensuring its protection before posting makes security sense.
If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, act quickly. The longer you wait the more damage can be done, and the harder and costly it will be to fix the damage that is repairable. Ensure that you report to relevant authorities immediately. These bodies may include but not limited to your bank(s), National Identity Card Management Commission (NIMC), your social security providers, police, and other places you know or suspect that the offender can use the stolen information to perpetuate crime in your name.
Online service providers owe it a duty to protect personal information of their prospective, existing and previous customers. This they can do by ensuring that all online transactions are secure and are made over secure, encrypted connections.