If you want to keep your information safe, the best strategy is not to share it at all, right? Keep it under lock and key, and let out only the dribs and drabs that are essential to paying your cable bill or buying that holiday gift. Won't that ensure that your identity is never misused or misrepresented?
Maybe not. The value of information lies in sharing it. That much I think everyone would agree with. In fact, EMC's security division (RSA) has recognized this, and put its focus on using security to set information free to add value and do work in all the ways you need it to.
Sharing information freely may in fact be the best way to prevent its misuse. And if you aren't sure that's true, just think about your mother. Imagine if someone who looked a lot like you was not only able to pilfer your social security number and bank information, but was actually steal your clothes and your car. Finally, they steal your high school yearbook to read up on your friends and early tastes. So relative to the average information thief, they've hit the mother lode. They could probably walk into any store and use your credit card. They may be able to walk into your bank and cash one of your checks. Who knows, maybe they could run into an old friend of yours who hadn't seen you in a few years and pass themselves off as you.
Then they run into your mother. What happens? Despite all that information about you, and their ability to represent your life pretty well, the fraud wouldn't even last a millisecond, would it?
Why not? Because despite all that information the thief has about you, your mother has more. She knows your appearance, your mannerisms, your walk and a million billion other things about you so completely that any attempt at misrepresentation, no matter how good, would fail.
Most fraud works because of an information imbalance. The perpetrator has enough information to claim to be 'you', and the victim doesn't have enough information to prove them wrong. The issue isn't that the stores you shop at, the bank you use, the travel agent you favor have too much information about you. The problem is they don't have enough.
Now it would be nice if your mother could work at all the places you frequent (well maybe not ALL of them). She could use her knowledge of your habits, mannerisms and tastes to identify every suspect action taken by someone claiming to be you. But since she can't, what's the next best thing?
Share everything. Imagine if the digital equipment of your mannerisms, tastes and habits (never mind your appearance, and even the subtlest inflections of your voice), were known to every store you wished to enter, and every online retailer who's website you visited. Stores could spot suspect behavior in ways otherwise impossible (why is he buying this airline ticket when we know he's claustrophobic? Why would he purchase that jacket when we know he hates everything gray...?). With your digital life so well known, the best a thief could do would be to only try and buy the exact same things you buy, at the same stores you shop at, and ship them to your address or that of your friends or family. A pretty dull life for a thief no doubt. But a pretty safe digital life for you.
Advances such as cloud computing, and improvements in business intelligence and other disciplines start to make this world possible. All your interactions could be brought together in a digital 'fingerprint' of your life. The fingerprint itself can become a crucial part of your digital security. And the more information that feeds the fingerprint, the more nuanced it becomes.
EMC does something like that today. EMC's content addressed storage systems break down every image, file or document bit by bit, creating a unique fingerprint from the unique characteristics of each object. Change one bit, and the result is a different fingerprint.
Now none of us want all of our tastes, purchases and behaviors laid out for the world to see. But that's OK. because just as your fingerprint can identify you without being you, your digital fingerprint can be an abstraction-- one that can help identify unusual behaviors without actually saying what makes them unusual. The fingerprint ensure authenticity. But the fingerprint itself doesn't reveal the content.
So rather than focusing on keeping your information locked away to be safe, imagine a world where you can set it all free-- and that the freer it is, the safer you become. That would make the digital world as safe for you as your mother's kitchen.