From the editor's desk: Take identity seriously

Issue 8 2020 News

The list of companies subject to data breaches continues to grow, both in Africa and beyond. The dangerous part is that in Africa, including South Africa (at the moment), the companies do not have to tell anyone what happened. The only way we (as the real victims of these breaches) find out is when an international body notices millions of records up for grabs on the ‘Dark Web’. (I hate the term Dark Web, it’s really just the Internet with a bit of security.)

Andrew Seldon.

The Protection of Personal Information Act (PoPIA) is meant to deal with this, and I suppose other local cyber or electronic communications laws are also meant to be useful. However, the way I see it, they mainly focus on making sure trusted entities like the government (try saying “trusted entities like the government” without laughing) can check out what sites you have been browsing and who you’re exchanging sweet nothings with on messaging apps.

Now we know that no system can ever be 100% secure, unless it’s switched off and disconnected, but there are solutions for organisations that will help them to make it harder to hack into their systems. Cyber criminals, like any other criminals, will opt for the easy targets rather than doing the hard work unless they know there is good money to be made by taking their time.

And this is where the whole cybersecurity idea falls apart. Most of the breaches we see today are not hacking like in the movies, but the result of carelessness, incompetence or plain old laziness. For example, simply sending millions of records to an individual because he/she/it once logged into your system legitimately; or the all-time favourite, ignoring basic security principles and leaving databases unprotected or using default passwords.

And the people put at risk are you and I. Companies are protected by teams of lawyers and nice insurance policies, which we pay for anyway, but the individuals who have their identities stolen and have to engage in what amounts to a war to get companies and government departments to acknowledge the theft and correct the consequences just get screwed.

I can go on, but what’s the point? We need a new way to protect identities that doesn’t involve trusting companies or cloud services or brokers, agents, sales people and others. The quick solution is to jump on the biometrics bandwagon, but it is more than simply a fingerprint or picture of your face, there needs to be an open ecosystem that holds a secure audit trail of every identity out there – human or otherwise – and makes it secure, simple and fast to confirm an identity.

Easier said than done, but it is possible. I hope to delve a little more into that concept in the upcoming Access & Identity Management Handbook 2021 which we will finish this year (COVID willing), and publish in January 2021. Of course, that all depends on whether people will be willing to speak to me about it. If you have any insights, feel free to get in touch on [email protected].


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