By simonri on Jan 02, 2007
A couple of things recently have brought home to me the importance of identity, or more specifically proof of identity.
Before Christmas I flew to Scotland for a JavaUK event at the Sun facility in Linlithgow. I arrived at the airport, used an automated check-in machine, passed through security and boarded the plane. At no point was I ever asked to prove my identity. I didn't even need to use a credit card to get my boarding pass, just the e-ticket reference number was enough. Whilst I realise that this was an internal UK flight, it still seems somewhat ludicrous to me with the hightened security to prevent terrorist attacks that I was not required to prove who I was.
The second thing was more serious. Over the Christmas break I received a letter from my credit card company saying they were concerned that some transactions made with my card were fraudulent. It turns out that somewhere my card was skimmed, meaning that my credit card identity was stolen. Here in the UK we've switched to chip-and-pin in an attempt to eliminate this possibility. The idea is that, rather than using a signature, which is written on the card and therefore relatively easy to copy, the PIN is stored in a chip on the card which cannot be retrieved unless using secure technology. Whoever skimmed my credit card realised this and used it in the States where it seems anyone can use a credit card with almost no checks on proof of identity (many, many times I've used a credit card in the US and been given the card back before I've signed the receipt). What impressed me most about this was how quickly the credit card company brought this to my attention. After only two transactions, something must have been flagged as a further three transactions were rejected. The software used to analyse spending patterns must be very sofisticated, as I don't have a 'normal' pattern (recent months would should legitimate transactions in at least nine different countries).
Biometrics should be the answer to this, although at one office where I worked they were installing finger print sensors for door access one of my colleagues raised the question of, "Do they still work if the thumb is no longer attached to the hand?"