Tom Simonite

A View from Tom Simonite

Get Notified When Hackers Get Your Data

A new service lets the FBI or other investigators alert you if your data is found in the wrong hands.

  • March 14, 2012

A new iPhone app launched today will add a serious – but hopefully infrequent – note to the notifications that set your handset buzzing. AllClear ID will let you know when the FBI or other investigators have found your data in the hands of cyber criminals.

Stories like the spectacular data breach that befell Sony last year mean that most of us now understand that cyber criminals actively access and trade our personal data. A less well-known consequence is that increasing volumes of it – credit card details, social security numbers and online accounts – are also passing through the hands of investigators from organizations like the FBI.

They’ve traditionally used it only as evidence to help catch crooks. AllClear ID has now set up an agreement that allow the FBI and other organizations affiliated with the National Cyber-Forensics and Training Alliance (NCFTA) to inform people when their data is found in the wrong hands. The NCFTA is a group through which law enforcement, academic and private security experts work together to share information about cyber threats. You must be signed up to AllClear ID’s free service, available online as well as through the company’s new app, to benefit from that new agreement.

“Being able to notify people their data has been found is the piece that’s been missing,” AllClear ID’s founder Bo Holland told me yesterday. “Let’s say a researcher working for PayPal to combat a botnet,” he said, “when he finds your credit card information you’ll know about it.” 

You have to provide some data to AllClear ID’s app so the NCFTA knows who needs warning. However, the meticulous record keeping of cyber criminals means that just your email address is usually enough, says Holland. “Email is one of the primary fields they collect about you,” he told me, “and they will store that alongside your other data.” Sometimes lists of just credit card or social security numbers do turn up, though. Users of AllClear ID can also supply those numbers so they would be notified in such cases.

If Holland’s app does have to break the bad news that your data has shown up where it shouldn’t, it also offers advice on what you can do – for free – to reduce the risk of it being used. Premium options, such as credit report monitoring, are also offered and are the way AllClear ID will make money from the service.

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