Indiana U. Research Center Leading Way in Fighting ID theft

U-WIRE-07/06/2006-Indiana U.: Indiana U. fighting ID theft (C) 2006 Indiana Daily Student Via U-WIRE

By Trevor Brown, Indiana Daily Student (Indiana U.)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Joining the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Secret Service and several corporate and academic institutions, the Indiana University Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research will become one of the founding members of a national institute to battle the dangers of identity theft and fraud.

The establishment of the Center for Identity Management and Information Protection was announced last week, creating an unprecedented coalition that will focus on research involving identity crimes affecting national security, businesses and individuals, said Fred H. Cate, director of IU's Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research.

"The issues (the center will) address are very critical," Cate said. "They range from how to prove who you are when boarding an airplane, to credit card fraud and basically how to keep someone else from posing as you."

According to the center's Web site, its core mission is to "facilitate a national research agenda" and to improve information sharing and communication between the many different entities doing research on identity theft.

Also joining IU and the government agencies in the venture are IBM, LexisNexis and academic programs from Carnegie Mellon University, Syracuse University and Utica College.

"There's a lot of good work being done in the field," Cate said. "But there is very little coordination. The government has big issues as in academia we have big issues. Until now there has been no place to decide what kind of research we really need and how and who will be paying for it."

Another of the center's advantages, Cate said, will be that it will allow IU to take advantage of its own institutional strengths while receiving help in areas where not a lot of University work is being done in.

"We are a world-leading research center on phishing," Cate said. "While other centers specialize on areas we don't, we can partner with them to do more comprehensive research."

Though IU has just finished significant work in getting the center started during the year and a half of planning, Cate said there has been no immediate defined role that they will have. However, he said they will work a lot with government agencies and the private sector to focus on where research is needed the most and how and from where funding will come.

While the new center will officially be based at the Economic Crime Institute of Utica College in New York, Cate said most of the work will be done through its large Web presence, conferences hosted across the country and just through the different partners collaborating on their work.

An example of one initial project already underway is the U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance, which is working with Utica College to focus on methods existing and emerging criminals are using to commit identity fraud and theft, according to a press release. The results from the study will then be used to help train law enforcement agencies and help corporations plan detection strategies.

The center has even received support from several member of Congress, as Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-NY., chairman of the house science committee and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-NY., gave praise to the announcement of its establishment.

"The Center for Identity Management and Information Protection will put the right focus on the issues that need to be discussed at all levels of government and the private sector in order to ensure that, as technology continues to advance, it is coupled with the strong safeguards and effective policies to prevent identity theft and protect our personal data," Clinton said in a statement.

Highlighted by the recent IU Credit Union scam -- where fraudulent e-mails, disguised as authentic in order to steal personal information from credit union members were sent out -- Cate said identity fraud is still a growing concern that must be addressed. While he said that statistically the number of cases has been declining from year to year, the sophistication of the crimes has improved over time.

In the past, Cate said, these types of criminals were fairly "stupid" in their techniques, but now organized crime and international crime rings have taken up identity theft crimes using more advanced methods.

In addition, he said that because of society's growing dependency of electronic information it is much more of a vulnerable target.

"Many people will carry credit cards from banks they have actually never seen," Cate said. "We are just a number to them, and they are just a number to us."


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