Layers will Combat Identity Theft

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 @ 12:03 PM gHale

It is all about defense in depth; no one solution will provide an answer, rather, security is all about layers of defense.

The same holds true when it comes to identity theft. Having a triple-threat combination of protective software on your computer reduces the chances of identity theft, according to a study at Michigan State University.

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Computer users who were running antivirus, anti-adware and anti-spyware software were 50 percent less likely to have their credit card information stolen, according to a survey of more than 600 people.

“When you think about antivirus software protecting you, you might think about it keeping your files safe and not losing your music and photos,” said Thomas Holt, MSU associate professor of criminal justice and lead researcher on the project. “The important thing we’re finding here is that it’s not just about protecting your files, but also about protecting you economically – about reducing your chances of being a victim of identity theft.”

Holt’s co-investigator was Michael Turner, associate professor at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

About 15 percent of respondents said they had experienced computer-related identity theft in the past year, the study said. Males were more likely to be victims, Holt said.

“We’re not sure what this might be a consequence of,” he said. “Is it that males are less careful about what they do online? Is it a difference in how they shop online or conduct online commerce?”

Those who engaged in “computer-related deviance” – such as downloading pirated music or pornographic images – were more likely to be victims of identity theft, the study found. This is a large risk for users because pirated movies and music may contain malware and place users at risk for harm.

But the most practical news for computer users was the combined protective factor of the antivirus, anti-spyware and anti-adware software, each of which has a different function for keeping a computer safe, Holt said.

Antivirus software detects and removes malicious software programs such as viruses and worms that can corrupt a computer, delete data and spread to other computers. Anti-spyware and anti-adware programs, meanwhile, protect against software that either self-installs without the user’s knowledge or installs by the user and gathers information covertly about a person’s Internet use, passwords and so on.

“You have a much better chance of not getting your credit card number stolen if you have all three forms of protective software,” Holt said.

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