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With the widespread adoption of digital platforms, identity theft has become a highly pervasive issue. Threat actors use deceptive schemes like phishing scams and malware attacks to steal individuals’ private information and, ultimately, their identities.
Identity theft, a widely prevalent cybercrime, involves appropriating another person’s identity details, typically for financial benefit, by assuming their persona. This illicit act can have devastating consequences on an individual’s life.
As this growing cyber threat becomes increasingly common, it’s important to understand precisely what identity theft entails, its associated risks, and what measures to take to protect against such risks.
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Identity Theft Definition
Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information, such as your name, Social Security number, bank account numbers, or credit card data, to commit fraud or other criminal activities. Such stolen personal information is typically used to make unauthorised purchases, open new accounts, apply for loans, or file fraudulent tax returns. It’s like a thief swiping your identity and exploiting it for their own benefit.
Identity thieves use sophisticated methods to steal personal information from unsuspecting victims. They use social engineering and phishing schemes, malware attacks, skimming devices, and even old-fashioned tactics like dumpster diving to get their hands on sensitive data.
Identity theft can cause significant financial damage and emotional distress. Victims feel violated and vulnerable while trying to reclaim their identities. Without effective protection to mitigate such threats, it can take months or even years to fully recover from an incident, both financially and emotionally.
How Identity Theft Happens
Identity theft is a serious issue that has seen an alarming increase in recent years. This crime can occur in several ways, including:
In phishing schemes, cybercriminals impersonate legitimate organisations to trick individuals into revealing their sensitive data, such as credit card details and answers to security questions. This deception often involves fabricating emails, text messages, websites, and even phone calls to con individuals into believing they’re interacting with a legitimate brand – all to steal private information.
Without adequate protection over your hardware and software, cybercriminals can gain unauthorised access to computers or networks to steal personal data. Hackers can install malware or exploit vulnerabilities in the system’s security infrastructure, providing access to confidential files with sensitive data or the potential breach of large databases.
Data breaches involve unauthorised access to databases containing vast amounts of user information, including financial account details, making them a goldmine for identity thieves. Cyber attackers can easily steal names, credit card numbers, and other sensitive information to mimic someone else’s identity.
This technique involves stealing credit card information during an otherwise legal transaction. For instance, when you hand over your card issued by your bank at a restaurant or store, the employee might swipe it through a device that copies the card’s information from its magnetic strip.
This old-school method entails looking over someone’s shoulder while they enter their PIN at an ATM or fill out forms with personal data at public places like banks and post offices. While some businesses and facilities implement technologies to help prevent such activities, shoulder surfing is still a frequently used method that allows attackers to steal people’s personal information.
Theft of Physical Items
Theft of physical items remains a common method identity thieves use. This could be purses and wallets containing ID cards and credit cards, mail directly from mailboxes, especially pre-approved credit offers; new checks; tax information, etc., all usually stored in non-secure locations around homes and workplaces.
It’s crucial for business owners, IT teams, and cybersecurity professionals to not only understand these threats but also put preventive measures in place to prevent them. Securing any documents with personally identifiable information (PII) goes a long way toward preventing identity theft.
Remember — always be cognisant about where you share any sort of confidential detail and use secure storage methods at all times while handling critical documents like passports, credit cards, or driving licenses.
If you notice any of these warning signs, it is important to take action immediately to protect yourself from further harm. You can report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online at IdentityTheft.gov. You should also contact the fraud department at your credit card issuers, bank, and other places where you have accounts.
Taking immediate action is critical if you suspect you have fallen victim to identity theft to minimise the damage and prevent further harm.
Recovery may seem complicated, but necessary to recover your financial security and emotional well-being.
In addition to these measures, routinely monitor your bank accounts, credit card statements, and credit reports for any unusual activity. With more operations conducted digitally — such as banking, registering accounts, or making purchases — security vulnerabilities have skyrocketed.
Preventing Identity Theft in the Workplace
Identity theft is a growing concern for businesses and individuals alike. While the topic largely focuses on the individual, organisations can better safeguard their employees’ sensitive information from these potential threats.
Password Security Policies
The first line of defence against identity theft is a robust password security policy. This should include complex password requirements (mix of alphanumeric characters and symbols), frequent changes, and limitations on sharing or reusing credentials across multiple accounts.
All organisational devices — computers, smartphones, tablets — should be password protected. If an employee loses an unprotected device, anyone who finds it could have easy access to all stored personal information and confidential business information.
Data Privacy Programmes
A comprehensive data privacy programme ensures that all collected personally identifiable information (PII) remains confidential and secure at every level of your organisation — from collection to disposal. Typically, these programmes are regularly audited by third parties.
Maintaining PII Confidentiality
Your business must take measures to keep PII confidential both digitally and physically. Encrypt digital files and properly store physical documents in a secure location away from public areas or unsecured networks.
Security Awareness Training
Security awareness training plays an essential role in preventing workplace identity thefts, as well-informed employees are less likely to fall prey to phishing scams or other attempts at stealing their login credentials. This includes understanding how card-issued statements work, along with checking credit reports regularly with major credit bureaus.
How Proofpoint Can Help
Preventing identity theft in a business setting involves educating employees about safe online behaviour and implementing robust cybersecurity measures such as firewalls, secure networks, encryption technologies, and an effective Identity Threat Detection & Response (ITDR) solution.
Proofpoint’s ITDR solutions offer comprehensive protection by identifying potential threats in real-time using machine learning algorithms and providing actionable insights for quick response. It focuses on reducing the attack surface by controlling user access based on their roles within the organisation.
Included with Proofpoint’s ITDR solutions is Spotlight, which detects escalated privileges and lateral movements made by cyber attackers before they reach their target endpoint. Spotlight uses automated remediation to prevent identity risks and detect real-time identity threats.
Another powerful supplement to ITDR is Proofpoint’s Shadow tool, which helps organisations uncover cloud apps used without official approval — a common source of security breaches leading to identity thefts.
The ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats makes completely eliminating identity theft seem impossible. However, awareness combined with the right tools, like those offered by Proofpoint, can significantly minimise the risks associated with such threats.