Over the course of this year, I've stood back in utter astonishment at the number of corporate security violations and associated identity theft that have been revealed, most of them due to carelessness or ill preparedness. One wonders how many more might we not have heard about?
Ask any of my colleagues within IBM who know me well and they'll tell you I'm a privacy hawk. Because of my experiences working in information technology and the interactive marketing industry, I became especially sensitized to the opportunity for the constructive use, and potential abuse, of the emerging technologies that uniquely defined the interactive experience early on during the so-called "boom." Only recently have we witnessed the illogical end of such tactics in the form of widespread identity theft.
Although I find the Citibank identity theft TV commercials quite funny -- the ones where the identity thief literally takes on the persona of the individual whose information they stole -- I take their underlying messages very seriously. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, 9.3 million people in the U.S. were victims of identity theft last year. IBM's own Global Business Security Index indicated this past June that the number of contaminated emails increased 70 percent, and one survey estimated the dollar impact of identity theft last year was $52.6 billion!
After watching all this, I decided I had to do something, anything to participate in the protection of my own personal information. So I went on the offensive and subscribed to a credit watch service. Now, anytime anyone tries to use my credit or even does a credit check, I immediately receive an automatic email alert. Although it irks me that I now pay $100/year to monitor what I consider to be my information, I figure it's a small price to pay for even a little piece of mind, especially after hearing the horror stories of how much trouble and personal cost that identity theft can cause an individual person in lost productivity as they try to restore the damage caused by the identity thief.
Meanwhile, I'm happy to report that IBM is also doing what it can to help customers who wish to better protect their own customers' information. Last week, we announced the new z9 mainframe, for which the additional processing power and new security technology for encrypting personal data can help companies better protect customer data on the mainframe and in offline storage media (several of the recent identity theft concerns arose over unencrypted customer data for such storage).
We also recently announced a new version of the Tivoli Identity Manager software, which helps companies automate the tedious, usually manual process for setting up new accounts and passwords and convey who has access to what information. Such features not only help better protect customers' personal data -- they also allow for increased responsiveness to internal audits and regulatory mandates.
If good fences makes for good neighbors, good locks make for better business. Ultimately, the more confidence your customers have in your company's security and privacy practices -- how you handle, protect, and use their personal information -- the more confidence they're going to have in your business, and the more business they're going to do with you.
And the less your company's name is going to appear above the fold in The New York Times with a headline you'd prefer never to have seen.