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Beards are Back

Beards are back. A nostalgic IT industry fashion statement, which I’m certain will find favour beyond the present generation of Linux programmers and may even present an opportunity, along with the baseball cap and the ‘hoodie’, of concealing one’s identity from the expanding and intrusive surveillance society in which we live.

Following in the wake of Vogue magazine and the introduction of the stylish ‘Information Taleban’ look, there are signs emerging that spreading every minor detail about one’s personal life across the internet may be on the wane, as a lifestyle choice, at least among the over twenty-fives.

With identity theft now rife and steadily rising, keeping one’s online personal information to an absolute minimum is starting to look increasingly attractive. While large businesses use services to monitor corporate reputation, a niche may now exist for a similar model, able to measure both personal reputation and exposure to the internet; capable of linking into one’s credit rating as well.

We heard, at last month’s ecrime congress, how criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated in targeting individuals in the lucrative game of identity theft and this can call upon directed ‘phishing’ attacks and the simple expedient of either ransacking rubbish bags and/or using Google to look for useful information that might exist on social networking sites and generally sprayed across the internet. As a result, identity theft has become astonishingly easy, in terms of criminal effort and recently, I met an individual who had experienced the unfortunate consequences.

According to the Direct.Gov website, “Identity theft affects more than 100,000 people every year” and best victim, is invariably the average person because he or she is less likely to be aware it has happened or indeed take swift action to deal with the problem until its far too late.

The individual I spoke with, was an electrician whose life had been shattered by an experience which involved a criminal cloning his identity to commit a number of crimes, which involved fraud. The first he knew of it was a summons to court in Birmingham, - he lived in London - and then a tortuously unsympathetic process which involved trying to prove that he had not committed a series of criminal offenses in the Midlands. If you have ever attempted to report an internet-related crime at your local police station, then you’ll wonder at how the civilian assistant – it’s unlikely you’ll see a police officer - may react to your standing behind a reinforced window and claiming that you are not actually the serial offender who shares the criminal record in your name.

The bebo obessed young are naturally profligate with their personal information because at 16 or less, one has little or nothing of real worth to risk in the broader world that exists outside a small group of friends but age and even a page on Facebook, may attract a growing risk to both one’s reputational and financial assets and more and more of us are placing these in danger on the internet; like low hanging fruit for an army of fraudsters.

What we need, other than the exercise of common sense, is to adopt a more universal view of the dangers of unrestricted personal information flow than simply have Government warn us all to use paper shredders and regularly check our credit ratings. Perhaps its time to encourage each of us to consider having a personal information policy that restricts, as much as possible what we reveal about our lives on the Web and re-introducing anonymity, like the beard, as a fashionable virtue with fringe benefits in the information age?

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