Robert L. Mitchell of Computerworld decided to tackle his own identity online to see just what information about himself he could dig up. After a privacy activist was able to retrieve his Social Security number, full name, address and a digital image of his signature online, Robert was both concerned and intrigued about what else could be out there.
Robert spent a few weeks combing through public and private resources (some paid) on the web to build up a dossier on himself. He spoke with everyone from private investigators to privacy experts. And in the end, Robert found that there was a vast amount of information about him online, and not all of it accurate. Many states have not taken adequate steps to redact sensitive information from the documents, such as mortgage documents, they make available to the public.
Robert put his full findings online, also breaking down the information by type of source. His first source was government records, that let him pull up his full legal name, address, Social Security number, spouse's name and Social Security number, price paid for home, mortgage documents, and signature. Robert continued his search with free people searches, search engines, image searches, social network searches, and paid searches. And that may only be the "tip of the iceberg", in terms of what else is easily accessible.
"Of the information available about me on the Internet, the most troubling was my Social Security number, blatantly posted online by my own county government, for the convenience of lawyers, insurance agents -- and petty criminals interested in identity theft. Today, you need more than just a Social Security number to commit identity fraud, but a criminal who has that number is off to a great start."
I was surprised to learn from this article that public records that contain Social Security numbers are not well regulated, and that if the government makes those records public, it can open that information to republishing without repercussions. You can read more about that in the call-out box at the bottom of this page.
Robert's search was very revealing, and certainly had him reviewing all the information available about him online. He's taken steps to redact his Social Security number from government records online and has gone so far as to call his credit card and bank companies to test their authentication policies. In some cases, he was authenticated using this information he found online and, to his credit, he's suggested those companies review their authentication protocols. We mostly consider identity theft the result of lost or stolen information, but this exercise shows that you may be at risk already.
Have you found your Social Security number or other sensitive information online? Let us know in the comments.
Also check out this 3D artistic representation of security threats. Makes all these horrible threats seem almost beautiful!