[From The Pioneer (Utica College Alumni Magazine), Summer 2006]
As identity theft becomes a top law enforcement concern, UC launches a unique new partnership to combat this growing threat.
From somewhere in cyberspace, a skilled hacker employs sophisticated “keylogging” software to capture the keystrokes of unsuspecting consumers. Elsewhere, terrorists use stolen identities to purchase tickets on a commercial airline flight. At a major financial institution in New York, a cyber-thief creates a fraudulent personal profile to gain access to the financial records of thousands of account holders.
Welcome to America’s new identity crisis. The nation’s increasingly information-driven society is falling prey to a faceless enemy: identity thieves who use the power of digital technology to gain access to sensitive data for the purpose of committing theft, fraud, terrorism, and other major crimes.
The perpetrators of identity fraud run the gamut from small-time crooks to organized crime networks, from corporate insiders to international terrorists. What they have in common is the capacity to commandeer and manipulate personal identities, adapting them to their own ends. In this way, they effectively conceal their illegal activities and, in essence, hide in plain sight.
How serious is this threat? Estimates vary, but according to some who have studied the problem, annual losses to identity fraud may amount to as much as hundreds of billions of dollars, to say nothing of lives lost and suffering inflicted on an international scale.
In short, it is a problem crying out for solutions. Until now, however, efforts at combating identity theft and fraud have been piecemeal and lacking in coordination.
“While there has been some good research done in this area, it is scattered in many locations,” says Gary R. Gordon, executive director of the Economic Crime Institute (ECI) of Utica College. “We saw a need for a center to pull together the existing work, identify the gaps, and lead a comprehensive research agenda that will make identity theft less likely to happen.”
This vision is about to be realized. With the support and active participation of a number of key corporate, government, law enforcement, and academic partners, Utica College has announced the establishment of the new Center for Identity Management and Information Protection (CIMIP) – an unprecedented alliance dedicated to research on issues relating to identity management, information-sharing policy, and data protection.
CIMIP was unveiled June 28, 2006 at news conferences in Washington D.C. and on the Utica College campus. Along with UC President Todd S. Hutton and Gordon, representatives of CIMIP’s major public and private sector partners were on hand for the Washington event, as was Congressman Sherwood L. Boehlert ’61. The announcement drew the interest of major news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Associated Press, ABC News, and a number of international publications.
CIMIP originated with a series of joint ECI/LexisNexis white papers, the most recent of which – “The Ongoing Critical Threats Created by Identity Fraud: An Action Plan” – calls for the creation of the center while proposing a detailed roadmap for its research agenda.
Gordon, the study’s co-author and CIMIP’s inaugural executive director, argues that identity is at the core of both the problem and any possible solutions. “We need to continuously develop better methods of authenticating people,” he explains. “We need to be able to determine with a high level of certainty that the person who is making the claim to a particular identity is really that person.”
Norman A. Willox Jr., of CIMIP partner LexisNexis and Gordon’s co-author on the ECI/LexisNexis white papers, agrees. “That’s the fundamental question we have to answer whenever we’re conducting business, or entering into a trusted transaction, or making a hiring decision, or booking a vacation over the Internet,” he says. “The Internet has made us a much more faceless society. As we rely on interactive technology more and more, it gets harder and harder to establish a reasonable standard of trust. Identity thieves take advantage of that.”
CIMIP’s mission is to drive a national research agenda focusing on these identity issues and on the development of appropriate and effective responses to their criminal exploitation. To accomplish this, the center brings together LexisNexis and IBM from industry, the FBI and U.S. Secret Service from federal law enforcement, and Syracuse University’s CASE Center, CarnegieMellon University Software Engineering Institute’s CERT/CC, Indiana University’s Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research, and the ECI of Utica College from academia.
Together these players will comprise a nexus of knowledge and information-sharing necessary to realizing CIMIP’s mission, according to Gordon. Each brings critical skills to the table, adding to the substantial expertise already on hand at Utica College.
“What we’ve done initially is focus on key partners,” Gordon explains. “The FBI and the Secret Service, and the three other academic partners, all augment the skills and expertise Utica College has. Indiana University offers one of the nation’s key experts on policy. Syracuse University provides essential computing and technical expertise. CarnegieMellon University Software Engineering Institute’s CERT/CC also offers technical expertise but is very much focused in the cyberspace arena. Through this approach, we will be able to build research teams that include the top experts in the country.”
For its part, the FBI welcomes the advent of CIMIP as valuable support in its fight against identity theft and fraud. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners have many ongoing initiatives relating to identity theft and fraud,” says Special Agent Emily Vacher of the FBI’s Albany Division. “But law enforcement cannot solve these problems alone. CIMIP represents a significant step forward in promoting the type of cooperation that American citizens expect from their government, academic, and corporate leaders. Law enforcement agencies throughout the nation will benefit from CIMIP’s research.”
CIMIP’s interdisciplinary research teams will look for solutions to the identity fraud crisis within three general areas: criminal behavior, public policy, and technological solutions.
Gordon says the criminal behavior piece is closely related to the kind of work currently being done at the ECI. “We’re continuously looking at developing trends and patterns so that law enforcement can be proactive and industry can develop new prevention and detection methods,” he says. “We need to understand how identity criminals operate right now, but also anticipate what they’ll be doing around the next corner. Of course, economic crime is a very dynamic field – as soon as you address one area, another one opens up. We need to keep pace and not allow the bad guys to get in front of us.”
The second part of CIMIP’s research agenda involves the exploration of public policy solutions to identity fraud and how they are likely to affect the problem. “CIMIP will attempt to impact in a positive way the process of crafting legislation and regulations,” says Gordon. “We’ll study proposed policies to assess their potential impact, as well as evaluate existing policies to determine if they are effective.”
CIMIP will also give special attention to the “public” component of public policy, with good reason. “Policies for the use and protection of information must be developed in such a way as to take into account issues of privacy and civil liberties,” Gordon explains. “In order to engender the public’s trust, these policies must be transparent and fully auditable, and they must offer redress.”
The third research component, technological solutions, revolves around the development of better and more sophisticated identity management and authentication systems. “CIMIP will be involved in enhancing these systems to better protect against identity fraud,” says Gordon.
Willox adds that the Center’s primary strength will be in its capacity to focus on the most important aspects of identity fraud. “We’re not going to wipe this problem out across the board, all at once,” he explains. “CIMIP’s charge will be to delve into a few of the most critical issues – the areas that cause the most pain – and deliver solutions.”
The Center’s greatest impact, however, is likely to come not just from the research itself but also from its ability to help carry that research all the way to implementation. “Because of our broad-based partnerships,” says Willox, “we will be able to work directly with the government on legislative solutions, with law enforcement and industry on training, with key academic institutions on enhancing educational programs, with the Federal Trade Commission on consumer information campaigns, and so on. There will be a level of interconnectedness between government, industry, and academia that will prove a very significant advantage in this fight.”
CIMIP is getting off to a fast start, having already signed on to an initial research project in partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs. The project will examine established and emerging criminal organizations that engage in identity fraud, with particular attention to their methods. Its findings will be used to directly enhance law enforcement efforts and training on the federal, state, and local levels, as well as corporate prevention and detection strategies.
“All The Core Competencies”
Why did LexisNexis – the world’s largest information company – choose to partner with Utica College on a project of this magnitude?
"We looked at our academic, government, and corporate partners and said, where can we find the right combination of people to focus on this? The only place that possessed all the core competencies to pull it together was at Utica College."
-- Norman A. Willox Jr.
CEO, LexisNexis Special Services, Inc.
“After the last major breach happened, we looked at our academic, government, and corporate partners, and said, where can we find the right combination of people to focus on this? The only place that possessed all the core competencies to pull it together was at Utica College,” Willox says. They have the knowledge base through their academic programs and ECI. They have the enormous credibility that comes from being the recognized domain experts in economic crime prevention. They also have a strong understanding of how technology impacts society, plus significant expertise in the economics of identity fraud and cybercrime.”
IBM, another CIMIP founding corporate partner, also sees its collaboration with UC as an opportunity to advance the science of responding to identity theft and fraud – a goal the company’s officials have aggressively pursued on behalf of their customers. “We are committed to working with the center to support the industry in addressing information management, data protection and identity theft, and other challenges,” says John Slitz, vice president of IBM Entity Analytics.
For Utica College, the new center represents the culmination of over a decade of applied research in the area of economic crime. According to President Hutton, CIMIP will bring UC’s institutional research up to the next level and further enhance its reputation.
“While Utica College has been and will remain primarily a teaching-centered institution,” he says, “CIMIP will enable us to develop capabilities similar to those found at major research universities – capabilities that will greatly enhance opportunities for learning and professional accomplishment at UC. It will enable UC students to involve themselves in genuinely high-level research. It will bring the field’s most advanced skills and methods directly into our classrooms. And it will further extend UC’s reputation as a place where faculty can engage in serious research that will have an impact on the economic crime field on a national and perhaps international level.”
Just as importantly, this new initiative will provide UC with another way to honor its core commitment to community and professional service.
“The formation of the Center is an important step in focusing a national research agenda and providing the intense scrutiny that identity fraud, cyber crime, and terrorism demand,” says Hutton. “That Utica College is uniquely positioned to make a meaningful contribution in this critical area is a source of great pride for us all.”
“The center is a logical extension of the work we began in 1988,” Gordon adds. “In doing our part to address our nation’s identity crisis, UC and its partners will help find solutions to this growing national and global problem.” Back