Wed | Aug 5, 2020

Technology in Focus | Guard yourself against digital identity theft

Published:Wednesday | February 20, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Digital identity theft is on the rise and occurs in every industry with an online presence.

As a result, local technology experts are advising Jamaicans to pay closer attention to it. This calls for a greater understanding of what exactly constitutes our digital identity and how it is created.

Kathryn Chin See, business development and research analyst at MC Systems, explains digital identity as a collection of personal attributes in the digital world. These include usernames, social media handles, pictures, behaviours, 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,” Chin See adds. “This profile is created automatically the moment we engage online services. It is used to verify who we are and predict how we will use online services.”

Chin See says the digital identity has three layers. The first layer includes what users intentionally share online – personal data, including date of birth, career and employment details, academic achievements, contact numbers and addresses; social media accounts and posts, and search activities.

“The second layer of our digital identity is our implicit behaviour. 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 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., 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 are 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 we start seeing ad banners pop up on web pages about the topics we searched?” she asked.

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, aka ‘big data’.

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, points out 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 unquantifiable – 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.

Thorpe noted that the Data Protection Bill before Parliament will bring additional measures to protect people’s identity.

“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 said.

Thorpe added 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 protection for one’s digital identity even under the EU Data Protection Legislation, from which Jamaica’s legislation is being modelled.