Online Everyone Is Anonymous…For Now

As security increases to deal with new threats, there will be more ways to identify people.

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Every time you go online you leave a digital footprint. You store cookies and the sites you visit store your IP address, but at least for now there is no way to narrow down exactly who visited a site, whether the person you’re talking with is really who they claim to be, or even to prove it was you at the keyboard when you do use your real name.

There has been much discussion about forcing people to register and use their real names, notably after terrorist attacks, phishing, and in the wake of cyber bullying by anonymous people leaking videos, pictures, or scurrilous rumors that in a face-to-face setting would be the basis of libel and slander lawsuits. Those bullying incidents have been responsible for everything from mild embarrassment to suicides.

There are a significant number of blogs that have been written on this subject over the past few years in multiple languages. Most of them are focused on political rights, privacy issues, free speech and the assumption that it’s just a bad idea to put your real name out there because somehow that will be used against you. There are some good points, some knee-jerk nonsense and paranoia, but very little that hints at a compromise.

As security gets ratcheted up to deal with increasing threats of all kinds, however, that level of anonymity will disappear. But it won’t happen for the obvious reasons or in anticipated ways. In the future it won’t be just names that will define people, whether online or in person. It will be a number of factors that may include everything from biometrics, such as iris or retinal scans and fingerprint analysis, to body chemistry transmitted by a smart watch.

This stuff isn’t science fiction anymore. And with the pervasive theft of credit card data and social security numbers, as well as vast numbers of fake ID cards and passports, triangulation of real time information is the most secure form of identification available—multiple real-time sources of data to guarantee that a person is who they claim to be.

What’s changing—again—is part of a cyclical pendulum swing between client and server. It’s easier to manipulate the client—whether that’s a PC, a smart phone, a smart card, a home network or a magnetic strip—than the data in a data center or cloud. Or put another way, it’s easier to secure a data center with one door in than devices on a network with many possibly entry and exit points.

That doesn’t mean it’s always bulletproof, but with the proper motion detectors on networks, firewalls, and more detailed permissions, it can be. And when that becomes too restrictive, or when new tools are available at the client level—such as a smart watch that can effectively read body chemistry—some of this will shift back to the client, again.

But for now, it’s obvious that something has to change, and the solution will likely not be a head-on assault on public persona profiles. It will be a multitude of factors that are hard to argue against. And for the semiconductor chips, sensors and tools industry, this is an opportunity that is about to explode.