Your identity is an illusion

Robert Siciliano Identity Theft Expert


Like it or not, you will soon be effectively identified. And by “soon,” I mean within the next 10 years. Big Brother, whatever that means, will have your “number.” Governments across the globe have been gearing up and introducing numerous technologies to identify, verify and authenticate.

Identity is a simple idea that has become a complex problem. It has become complex due to fraud. Fraud, motivated by money, easy credit, and the ease of account takeover. Because identity has yet to be effectively established, anyone can be you. “Identity has yet to be established” is a bold statement that really requires an entire blog post. I’ll explain briefly here and in detail another time.

We have as many as 200 forms of ID circulating from state to state, plus another 14,000 birth certificates and 49 versions of the Social Security card. We use “for profit” third party information brokers and the lowly vital statistics agency that works for each state to manage the data. All of these documents can be compromised by a good scanner and inkjet printer. This is not established identity. This is an antiquated treatment of identity and ID delivery systems. Identity has yet to be established.

Proper identification starts with government employees, who basically have little say in the matter. Small, specific segments of society such as airport employees, those of immediate concern to Homeland Security, are also first in line to be identified.

Security Management reports that as of this month, all workers and mariners attempting to access secure maritime and port areas nationwide will have to flash a government-approved Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC),biometric identification card before entry. As expected, the system is riddled with problems and complaints.

HSPD-12, or Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, set universal identification standards for federal employees and contractors, streamlining access to buildings and computer networks, but not without some glitches.

Many privacy advocates scream in horror about a national ID. The fact is, we already have a national ID and it’s the Social Security number. While the Social Security number was never intended to be a national ID, it became one due to functionality creep. And it does a lousy job, because anyone who gets your SSN can easily impersonate you.

Privacy advocates and others who believe that there is or ever was true privacy are operating under an illusion. The issue here isn’t really privacy, its security. It’s managing our circumstances. Growing up, my mother was a privacy advocate. She advocated that privacy was a dead issue as long as I lived in her house. At any given time, she could rifle thorough my stuff if she even got a hint of glazed eyeballs.

I’ve always been fascinated with identification and what it means. Over the years, as I’ve dug deeper into information security and then identity theft, I have been floored by the ineffectiveness of the existing system. Numerous identity technologies use software or hardware as the delivery system. A Smartcard is a delivery system, it isn’t your identity. Identity may include biometrics and verification questions.

Then there is the issue of properly identifying a person. How? And what is the difference between authentication and verification? I’ve always used them interchangeably, so I asked an expert, Jeff Maynard, President and CEO of Biometric Signature ID, who is in the game of properly identifying his clients’ clients through dynamic biometrics, for his take on authentication vs. verification. There is a distinct differenceAuthentication is the ability to verify the identity of an individual based on their unique characteristics. This is known as a positive ID and is only possible by using a biometric. A biometric can be either static (anatomical, physiological) or dynamic (behavioral). Examples of each are: Static – iris, fingerprint, facial, DNA. Dynamic – signature gesture, voice, keyboard and perhaps gait. Also referred to as something you are. Verification is used when the identity of a person cannot be definitely established. Technologies used provide real time assessment of the validity of an asserted identity. We don’t know who the individual is but we try to get as close as we can to verify their asserted identity. Included in this class are out of wallet questions, PINS, passwords, tokens, cards, IP addresses, behavioral based trend data, credit cards, etc. These usually fall into the realm of something you have or something you know.”

Identity proofing means proving identity, which, as I see it, is the foundation for identity and one of the most overlooked and under discussed aspects of identity amongst industry outsiders. This is a most fascinating topic. I will get into that soon.

Robert Siciliano, identity theft speaker, discusses Social Security numbers.

I’m excited to work with uni-ball in 2009 in a partnership to help raise awareness about the growing threat of identity theft and provide tips for protecting yourself.  Check out for more information. 

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  1. […] where does this leave us? We have previously discussed in this blog “Identity Proofing” and how flawed our systems of identifying us are and a glimpse into how we can tighten up the […]

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