Review: "ID Fraud: They Stole my Life"

On Wednesday night, BBC1 broadcast an interesting documentary about "ID theft" (when it comes to "Identity fraud" as a concept, I'm with Ross Anderson).

As the title suggests, it was rather sensationalist in parts, particularly in the running commentary - however, it did feature some excellent sections where officers from Surrey Police, the Metropolitan Police and the City of London police shared their wisdom and allowed the film crew to accompany them on a couple of searches and arrests - with faces obscured where necessary. The piece on cash machine skimmers and PIN-pad cameras was particularly interesting.

The commentary was misleading on a particular point in these sections, though - there isn't an "identity unit" in these police forces, it's the cheque and credit card fraud unit who were doing their stuff.

While the dustbin-diving efforts in Surrey were covered well - and it even surprised me to see how many receipts still contain a full card number rather than the more common row of asterisks with last three or four digits - I was a little disappointed not to see more details on the measures people can employ to prevent such issues. The shredder which was briefly shown churning out shreds wasn't even a cross-cut model, and for folk who don't want to splash out on such a device, putting your sensitive papers in a suitable metal bin / brazier and setting fire to them is unsurprisingly effective.

However, the section where the ethical hackers went wardriving was very disappointing. Having an open wireless access point allows people to steal your bandwidth, not your identity - at least, if you're sensible regarding the way your computers are set up. While they said that "the best way to protect your identity is to keep your anti-virus software updated" (and doing this may have some merit, admittedly) there was no mention of:

  • hardening your system
  • keeping your OS patches up to date
  • keeping your application versions up to date
  • using a firewall
  • running your tools as a relatively-unprivileged user
  • not using IE - and, in fact, avoiding Microsoft products in general
  • turning your computer off, or otherwise disconnecting it from a network, when you're not using it
...so the BBC has done the average home user a disservice in this area.

I'd expect this programme to be repeated on BBC3 or BBC4 at some point in the near future, so if you missed it first time round (as many of my UK-resident security geek pals did), it's worth a watch - just don't get hot under the collar about the advice from non-police sources...

Comments:

I am suffering form the "nasty".... Acanthamoeba Keratitis. How long did it take you to overcome? I am at eighteen months and still have not eradicated this nightmare. Any advice? Thanks Bob

Posted by Bob Cruickshank on March 09, 2007 at 02:29 PM GMT #

Wow, you clearly have it much worse than I did. As far as I can remember - this being maybe 12 years back - the timeline went like:
  • 3 weeks' intense irritation, treated to some degree with eye ointment
  • 1 day complete agony when the blisters ruptured (and an attendant car crash, as I was driving at the time...)
  • 2 weeks in various levels of agony in hospital, being dosed regularly with major-strength eye drops and painkillers (I wasn't injured in the crash, this was all eye-related; I also became hypersensitive to light at this point)
  • 3 weeks at home with blackouts on all the windows, more eyedrops and antibiotic tablets
  • 4 weeks working at nights with the lights off and the monitor brighness way down, wearing new prescription sunglasses
  • ...and after that, maybe another couple of months only coming out of the house between dusk and dawn, in said shades - fortunately it was winter, so it got dark early and dawn came late...
So, maybe 5 months from full onset to being able to go out in daylight wearing full-tinted sunglasses, and being able to work with a conventional monitor brightness. I lost maybe 10% of vision permanently owing to corneal scarring and can't wear contact lenses ever again, but at least I got back to relative normality reasonably quickly. At 18 months, you have my sympathy, dude.

Posted by Dave Walker on March 12, 2007 at 07:45 AM GMT #

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