Digital identity theft is on the rise and occurs in every industry with an online presence. An infamous case of identity theft affected social media giant, Facebook following the revelation that hackers accessed data of some 30 million users late last year. Local experts in technology say that securing one’s digital identity is imperative.
To do that, we must understand what constitutes our digital identity and how it is created. In explaining digital identity, Kathryn Chin See, Analyst – Business Development and Research at MC Systems, said that it is a collection of our personal attributes in the digital world. These include: our usernames, social media handles, pictures, behaviors, financial information and how we use the Internet.
“All of these things make up our digital “profile,” which becomes a replica of ourselves in cyberspace. This profile is created automatically the moment we engage online services; it is used to verify who we are and predicts how we will use online services,” Ms Chin See explained.
She added that our digital identity has three layers, the first layer being what users intentionally share online, such as: personal stats including: date-of-birth, career and employment details, academic achievements, numbers and addresses, social media accounts and posts and search activities.
“The second layer of our digital identity is our implicit behavior. These are the “not-so-conscious” things that we share and would probably prefer not to share. For example, our real-time location transmitted from our mobile devices would reveal that during the hours of 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, Monday to Friday, we are all in the same place, and suggests that, most likely, we all work for the same company,” she added.
The third layer of digital identity is the interpretations made by online services. “This is what the Internet thinks about us based on our conscious and implicit online interactions – how many times have we done Google searches and then later, start seeing ad banners pop up on webpages about the topics we searched?” she asked.
Ms Chin See explained that, as people become submerged in the digital world, all the data collected about online users are analysed to generate meaningful insights that inform decisions made by the online services. This, she referred to as “Big Data”.
Citing measures that can be taken to protect one’s digital identity, Dr Sean Thorpe, President of the Jamaica Computer Society and head of the School of Computing and Information Technology at the University of Technology, Jamaica, stated that a person’s digital identity can be secured by using a Blockchain.
“This is a self-governed or self-sovereign identity system which simply refers to the individual’s identity and is fully controlled by the individual. It becomes extremely difficult if not un-quantifiable to steal this identity from the individual. In short, this addresses the concern of identity theft that is common in traditional identity management systems,” he explained.
Dr Thorpe noted that the Data Protection Bill, which is now before Parliament will bring additional measures to protect the users’ identity. He said the Bill is based on the EU Data Protection Legislation, which is being used as a guide for our local Data Protection Bill.
“As a tenet of the general provision, what jumps out is the issue of Privacy Protection of our digital identity within digital databases, as there is no demand that the data should not be collected, stored or used,” he explained.
Dr Thorpe said that the primary argument about protection of digital identity is that there should be guarantees that the data can only be used for pre-approved and legitimate purposes. He also revealed that there are still several controversial issues, which continue to challenge the protection even under the EU Data Protection Legislation, for one’s digital identity. For example, understanding of an architectural requirement of authorisation, audit and access control in real-time.
“Furthermore, there are several platform technologies that exist out there, which leads to the interoperability challenge; and the varying data formats on these platforms which can affect or characterize how a person’s digital identity is represented. Then there is also the challenge of standardization of how we recognize one’s digital identity as a persistent state of these digital databases that house same,” he noted.