How organizations and individuals can defend against would-be identity thieves

It’s currently a buyers market for criminals with an eye for identity theft. Thanks to ongoing lockdown measures, workforces everywhere are scattered, individual employees are more vulnerable than ever to social engineering tactics, and sensitive data that was once protected by robust on-premise security and corporate networks is now accessible via unsecured home environments.

What’s more, organizations across the globe are scrambling to digitize their processes, regulators have yet to enforce remote security procedures, and our most valuable data can now be accessed via easily penetrable devices on a basic home network.

From better education and a zero trust policy, to multi-factor authentication and wider business tools built to detect, respond to, and segregate attacks, it is more important than ever that IT teams ensure their remote workforce is educated and enabled to deal with increasingly sophisticated criminal attempts.

Before delving into how to protect against identity theft, it’s important to understand the two core avenues criminals are utilizing.

Social engineering

Intruders looking to perform identity theft first undergo what can often be a lengthy process of social engineering. This means stealing minor information that’s specific to the user that they are targeting and using it, alongside intimidation tactics, to blend some truth into a narrative with the user, such as requests from a bank or trusted brand asking for verification or even answers to security questions. Once the victim divulges this information, the attacker can use it to seize full control of the user’s online identity and wreak havoc throughout the enterprise network.

Home network devices

With most, if not all, of the average workforce now being based at home, cybercriminals are able to bypass the more robust security of the physical office perimeter and find a way in through a less secure device sitting on the same home network as a company laptop or tablet. For banks and other financial organizations housing lucrative data, this is particularly concerning. Once an attacker breaks into the network they are then able to move laterally throughout the network and do what they do best.

With these routes to identity theft acknowledged, it’s up to IT teams to create strict procedures, from better education to technical protocols, that enforce the best possible defence possible and ensure every user accessing the network is equipped to properly identify and mitigate threat attacks in the case that these defences don’t work.

As always, the first and most effective thing IT leaders can do is create an atmosphere of caution amongst their colleagues. This means adopting a ‘zero trust’ approach to any and all business communications – digital or otherwise. If users aren’t expecting an email asking for specific information, they should phone the sender to verify the request. That goes for any kind of communication – if there is a second way of authenticating the person at the other end of the email or phone, it must become second nature to do so. It is an extremely simple method but it’s also the most effective. It’s awareness like this, almost a common sense, that is often lost as businesses scramble to digitize themselves. Despite all of the security solutions available to us, humans still play a pivotal role in defending or failing an organization. Attackers will remember this, but organizations often forget.

Another vital tool in any defence is multi-factor authentication. By requiring more than one set of data from a user looking to access sensitive files or networks, the chance of a successful breach due to identity theft is immediately reduced. So, if your online identity is stolen, multi-factor authentication acts as a final safety net. If you can’t identify somebody, you can’t authenticate them. If you can’t authenticate them, you can’t provide the correct actor privilege level – which is how these compromises typically occur.

Network segregation is a reliable way to prevent criminals accessing and laterally moving through an enterprise network, having accessed it through a weak security point at a user’s home. By providing remote workers with a seperate network dedicated entirely to their workloads, IT leaders are able to remove these new security blind spots – in the form of the connected home – and close one of the prime avenues used by those attempting identity theft.

Stay vigilant

Identity theft attempts, along with remote working practices, are here to stay, though the idea of total protection, is gone. Nobody can fully protect, and so we must instead focus on defending for the inevitable. Beyond the above actionable tips for combating identity theft, IT teams and their organizations must embrace a larger sense of vigilance, awareness and consistency when composing themselves and interacting with others in the online world – particularly as they operate alone, away from the support of their physical perimeter.

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