Sophos ID Theft experiment reveals public are too careless with their personal data

October 19, 2009 Sophos Press Release

IT security and data protection firm Sophos has undertaken a social experiment around identity theft and discovered that the British public are not showing enough care about how they share their personal information, with most prepared to divulge their full name, date of birth and email address to complete strangers.

Sophos marked the end of last week's National Identity Theft Prevention Week by taking to the streets of Bristol with a video camera, tricking passers-by into revealing their personal data - with some disturbing findings.

During filming, all but one person interviewed gave their full name and an overwhelming majority also happily shared their date of birth and email address without realising they could be exposing themselves to an identity thief. In addition, the Vox Pop video revealed that many people are unaware or have a lack of faith in organisations' ability to look after their personal data.

The findings are worrying as corporate data leaks risk creating long-lasting damage to business reputation in the eyes of consumers.

"We took the unusual step of acting like identity thieves by using a video camera to find out what people thought of identity theft. We were mortified by how many people were prepared to share their personal information with complete strangers. It's clear that last week's awareness campaign has failed to make much of an impact on the general public," explained Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, who conducted the video interviews. "This is just the tip of the iceberg of a much larger issue that needs to be addressed beyond an annual awareness week. Consumers, businesses and organisations all have a responsibility to constantly look after sensitive information and not let it fall into the wrong hands. Hopefully this video will warn other members of the public to be more careful in the future with their personal data."

Further insight into the Vox Pop experiment can be found at Graham Cluley's blog.