Identity Theft – Through the Glass, Darkly

I read a lot, or at least I try to. My favorite author is Philip K. Dick. While a lot of Dick’s books deal with multiple level of identities (and puts them through the blender), I think even he would be hard pressed to imagine the world we’ve built around our identities and how freely we and others pass them around.

Dick wrote “A Scanner Darkly,” which is a fantastic novel, and one of Dick’s most insightful about identities. The story centers around a drug addict who is also the police agent that unknowingly is spying on himself. He looks at the himself through a glass, darkly (ie. a mirror). This dual self-identity without knowledge of ‘the other’ is almost as complicated as what happens everyday when we sign in online.

When we’re hacked, we feel personally violated at the electronic breach of something that isn’t us. Sometimes when we’re hacked, it’s only one account out of a multitude. Regardless, that piece of us, that identity for that account, has been compromised.

There’s something more sinister going on besides this identity crisis though. Your identities are being extended and stretched out of your control.

You Don’t Own Your Online Identity
Anthem was hacked. I still have received no notice that my account was hacked, but my son did. He is 5 years old and was a customer through me. I’m not sure how only he was hacked, but he has 2 years identity theft protection, so ‘Woohoo,’ I guess.

When I mentioned this to someone else, they said that they had received a notice as well. Surprised, I asked which of their employers had Anthem. He said he never had Anthem as his insurance, but somehow he was in their systems and his data was compromised.

Anthem is a fantastic example of how you are not in control of your identity. Even if you think that you are careful with multiple levels of authentication or a minimum amount of online presence, it doesn’t matter. There are always back room deals for your identity and data. While it might not be usernames and passwords, it is you, in your digital form, being traded back and forth.

The thing that scares me most about the Anthem hack is not the hack itself. Instead the fact that Anthem had non-customer data! How revealing a thing that is about our identities in this modern age.

What happened in the Anthem hack was that other non-customers in the independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) insurers that may have been serviced by Anthem at some point in the past were also hacked. I had no idea that if I was in an area covered by another BCBS company, your data could be shared with another provider. Yikes!

When you signed up with your company’s health insurance or direct deposit, you gave critical and vital information to another party (your company) and yet another party (the health care provider or payroll company) without a second thought. Who wants to prolong the onboarding process after all? But, now we’ve learned our identities are passed around to facilitate bureaucracy.

Why aren’t we more concerned about this?

Surely, my son was not at fault here, nor was my friend. In order to get essential services and get paid, I have to provide this information and to service me, companies need to share data.

Where does this leave us?
Well, people absolutely HATE government oversight, but at this point I’m not sure what else would do. Maybe an option would be a technology standard around social securities and /or identities – someone get to it!

Anthem and the BCBS network needs to be held accountable. Not so much that they were hacked, but because they don’t have a better process. Both are frankly, easily fixed with good IT solutions.

Online identity is a strange thing. Your electronic presence is something that you not only need to take care of, but something that is completely out of your control. For some reason, everyone is focused on the former and not the latter. The scariest thing to me is how my identity is being traded around without my knowledge.

“For now we see through a glass, darkly.”
1 Corinthians 13:12

At the risk of being possibly the only LinkedIn article with a Bible passage – When we look at our online identities, are we and those we’ve entrusted seeing them clearly or through the monitor, darkly?