While we might think of identity theft as a relatively modern problem, the truth is, identity theft dates back centuries. The struggle to find a way to authenticate one individual's identity over another is almost as old as man himself. Through the years, mankind has used documents and paperwork, seals, rings and other jewelry, family Bibles and a host of other means to provide verification of one's identity. More recently identity verification has taken place via various types of biometric scanning such as fingerprint or retina scans, facial recognition software and soon with behavioral biometrics.
In a digital world, almost every person on the planet also has a digital identity. As much as we might sometimes feel like the collection of information that businesses gather about us is a violation of our privacy, it can also go a long way towards keeping our digital identities secure. Some people may balk at the information asked for when applying for a driver's license or state-issued ID. As invasive as it may seem, however, the information contained on that driver's license or ID can also prevent someone from walking into a bank and simply using your name to withdraw money. The same is true of your digital identity.
What is a Digital Identity?
A digital identity is a collection of information about almost every aspect of your online habits and practices. From the geographical region you regularly log in from to the types of sites you generally visit to the devices or types of devices you generally use. Any variation from these habits and practices can raise digital red flags that can help keep you and your information safe and secure.
How Does Your Digital Identity Protect You?
One of the biggest ways that your digital identity protects you is financially, but it can also keep you from being accused - or even prosecuted - for cybercrimes. For instance, your bank most likely uses some type of monitoring software that logs the IP address or SIM information for the device you use every time you log into your account. If you were to suddenly try and log in from a different address or device, it might institute secondary protocols to help further confirm your identity. These secondary protocols might include having to answer pre-arranged security questions or entering a one-time passcode sent to a pre-registered cell phone or email account.
Your credit card company will also most likely monitor the types of purchases you generally make. If you have a longstanding habit of never spending more than a few hundred dollars on purchases and then suddenly an authorization for a single $5,000 purchase comes through, the card company may decline the purchase until you call in to confirm your identity and confirm the purchase.
Your digital identity can also be used to help protect you from being falsely accused of cybercrimes. For instance, if a neighbor manages to hack into your WiFi then any business they conduct online (including illegal enterprises) will appear to come from your IP address. If digital authorities trace the illegal activities back to your IP address, you could potentially be accused of the cybercrimes. However, if the recent actions of the cybercriminal do not match a longstanding pattern of your online behaviors, those behaviors may go a long way towards proving your innocence.
Another way your digital identity might protect you is if cybercriminals or even a work colleague were to somehow manage to get your login credentials at your workplace. If they were to download any sensitive documents or files or even do a full data dump, you could be accused of the crime. The login credentials that were used, however, are not the only thing that can be traced. Every transaction leaves behind a digital footprint or signature. This "signature" can include information about the type of device that was used, where the transaction originated from and a host of other telltale traces. If the digital signature left behind does not match your digital signature, you will most likely be vindicated of the crime even though your login credentials were used.
Your Digital Identity is Much Like Your Real Identity
If you were to regularly visit the same bank so frequently that the tellers all knew you by name, then if someone attempted to access your account using a fake ID, the tellers would automatically know they were dealing with an impostor. If you have lunch at the same place every day where all of the staff and many of the clients know you by name, then if a crime were committed during the time that you were there, your habits and patterns themselves would provide your alibi. The same is true of your digital identity or online habits and patterns.