In 1986, Ronald Reagan is quoted as saying, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government. I’m here to help you.'” As relevant as that sentiment was in his day, it’s still ringing true, this time with at least three government websites that are doing you no favors in terms of protecting your identity. Krebs on Security has an alarming report of identity theft and fraud via the IRS.gov website wherein he shares the story of a taxpayer who discovers someone has already filed a fake tax return under his name, for the purposes of stealing his tax refund. At fault is a identity authentication standard known as KBA, or “knowledge-based authentication” which is pretty widely used in the credit reporting and finance industries. Basically, you prove you are you by answering questions that supposedly only you would know, including former addresses, loan amounts or payments, and other personal data that is – surprise, surprise – readily found on the internet. By anyone.
What this means for you:
Ironically, people avoid creating accounts on websites because they are afraid of their data being leaked. And now you get to be afraid of NOT creating an account on a website for fear of someone else creating it for you, with the added “bonus” of this fake account further decreasing the probability of you being able to prove you are actually who you say you are. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” anyone? What makes this situation alternately terrifying and ludicrous is that it’s our own government creating this mess in an effort to provide better reporting, accountability, and accessibility. The other two sites that are also potentially weak to this “account snatching”? How about the Congress-created AnnualCreditReport.com and another federal behemoth: the Social Security Administration website. Brian Krebs’ recommendation is to make sure you get an account established for these three website pronto, if only to prevent someone else from pretending to be you and creating accounts that will be used to commit fraud and money laundering. Unfortunately for most of us, the surge of interest created by this article (and blogs like this one) have essentially paralyzed (are you surprised?) the account creation process of these websites, but keep trying, if only to let them know we actually care about our identities enough to want properly secured government websites.