Needless to say, Kim was disturbed. Her whole digital identity sat precariously on the foundation of her college e-mail account; once I had access to it, the rest of the security defenses fell like a row of dominoes. What's striking about Kim's case is how common it is. For many of us, the abundance of personal information we put online combined with the popular model of sending a password reset e-mail has our online security resting unsteadily on the shoulders of one or two e-mail accounts. In Kim's case some of that information came from a blog, but it could just as easily have come from a MySpace page, a sibling's blog (speaking of their birthday, mom's name, etcetera) or from any number of places online.
Battling this threat requires us to make better choices about how we prove who we are online and what we make available on the Internet. Go and do a self-check. Try to reset you passwords and see what questions are asked to verify your identity. Some questions are better than others. Date of birth, for example, is bad. In addition to the DMV, there is a wealth of public records available online where folks can track down when you were born. Most account reset features give you a choice of questions or methods to use. Go for questions that ask about obscure things that you won't forget (or can at least look up), like your favorite frequent flyer number. Avoid questions that are easy to guess, such as which state you opened your bank account in. All of these are, of course, stopgap measures until we find better ways to prove our identities online.
It's also critical to remember that once you put data online, it's almost impossible to delete it later. The more you blog about yourself, the more details you put in your social networking profiles, the more information about you is being archived, copied, backed up and analyzed almost immediately. Think first, post later.
As for Kim, she's still blogging, but now she's a little more careful about the information she volunteers and has cleaned house on her old passwords and password reminder questions. Next time I do this, I'll have to figure out the name of her favorite primary school teacher.