Scottish cyber crime expert recommends lying online

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By Clare Carswell

A SCOTTISH cyber crime expert has urged online users to lie about personal details to prevent identity theft.

Dr Ian Ferguson a digital forensics expert based at the University of Abertay has warned people to be careful about the information they provide online.

Giving out personal details such as date of birth on the internet leaves online users open to crime.

He said: “There was never any reason why someone should tell the truth with birth dates or your mother’s maiden name – it’s just a secret you can remember.”

He also suggests lying about personal details on social networking sites such as Facebook.

The advice comes after the admission of Google last week that they had copied household computer passwords and emails while gathering images with its Street View cameras.

Dr Ferguson said: “People think: ‘I’m being asked and I should tell the truth.’ But they don’t know the way the information is being used and it’s the kind of data that can be relatively easy to find out if someone wanted to commit identity fraud.

“Giving a false birthday is a relatively easy way to make yourself identity fraud proof.  I’m sure some online banks have never checked if you have entered your actual birthdate.”

The recommendations made by the university lecturer mean that a person would have to remember alternative birth dates and any other fabricated details.

Dr Ferguson admitted that these may be more difficult to remember and if written down could pose a security risk.

Information security and data protection officer with business and IT consultants Logica, Elaine McKinney said that “invented” data for social networking or auction sites is adequate for authenticating an account.

She said: “Service providers need to get more imaginative about the data they request for people to gain access to services and they need to decide whether it is adequate to authenticate or do they truly need to identify the person.”

In contrast to Dr Ferguson, the Scottish Business Crime Centre, which launched a new e-crime website last week, advises that people should not lie online.

Assistant director of the Crime Centre, Gary Ritchie, said: “I would never condone lying.  I don’t think you should ever give false details over the internet.

“If we are going to do this properly, you need to challenge the provider why they want a particular piece of information, what they intend to do with that, and how they intend to keep it safe.  If they cannot answer those questions, the I would not use that service.”

Amazon and ebay did not respond to requests for comment.

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