UT Center for Identity

Photo Credit: Lexi Acevedo | Daily Texan Staff

The era of memorizing passwords, carrying plastic driver’s licenses and shuffling passports may soon come to a close, thanks to a new collaboration at UT-Austin.

The UT Center for Identity, an institution that explores identity management, privacy and security issues, partnered with Gemalto, an industry leader in digital security, to develop more reliable and convenient methods for verifying and managing identity.

“Gemalto is excited about this partnership with the University of Texas,” said Paul Beverly, Gemalto’s head of government business. “We hope our collaboration will make Austin a nerve center for research and development of the new secure identity management techniques and tools.”

According to a press release published by Gemalto, biometric technologies will constitute a significant portion of the partnership’s research goals. Biometrics use physical characteristics, such as fingerprints or retinal scans, to identify and authenticate individuals. According to Beverly, biometrics can also use behavioral markers — how someone holds their phone, for example — to identify an individual.

“The technology is very promising,” said Ryan Anderson, the Center for Identity’s director of outreach and strategic partners. “It’s already being applied in many industries and sectors.”

Unlike passwords, biometric systems are harder to crack and more convenient to use, according to Beverly. However, innovation in biometric technologies comes with a new set of research questions and parameters.

“It needs to balance the needs of security on the part of the agency or organization or individual doing the authenticating (with) convenience and privacy on the side of the individual who’s giving up their biometric information,” Anderson said.

As one of the largest companies in the digital security industry, Gemalto has valuable experience in developing, marketing and implementing biometric technologies, Anderson added.

“Our talented engineers can share things they’ve learned through field testing of our solutions and can benefit from the research expertise of the UT Center for Identity,” Beverly said. “In addition to new joint research into identity management and security, we’ll also be supporting some of the Center for Identity’s ongoing and legacy research projects.”

According to Anderson, the Center for Identity hopes to bring a multidisciplinary research perspective to the partnership and shed light on consumer adoption and security.

“We want to be very sure that we bake in privacy concerns and that people understand the impact of this technology on their lives,” Anderson said. “We hope to be a partner (to) Gemalto in making this technology benefit everybody equally.”

According to the Gemalto press release, the research will focus on four specific areas. In addition to everyday applications of biometric technologies, Gemalto and the Center for Identity will explore identification methods used in airports and travel services, secure verification for online and mobile banking and the application of digital driver’s licenses.

“Those digital driver’s licenses are already being field tested around the country, and we’ve gotten very positive feedback in part because we’re giving people a level of control over their identity and personal information that they haven’t had before,” Beverly said.

The technology that is being researched will soon have widespread commercial and consumer applications, according to Anderson.

“We have an opportunity to conduct research that makes its way into the marketplace very quickly,” Anderson said. “We’re fortunate and grateful for the opportunity to support Gemalto’s initiatives in that sense (while) always looking out for protecting consumers’ rights.”

Children from Kirby Hall Elementary School are the first to try out “Beat the Thief,” the new IDWise interactive cyber security simulator that was released Tuesday morning.

Photo Credit: Chris Foxx | Daily Texan Staff

The UT Center for Identity launched a new program at the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center on Tuesday intended to combat the growing threat of identity theft.

Brenda Berkelaar, communication studies assistant professor, said the center and the program, called IDWise, provide tools for consumers to protect themselves from identity theft, a crime of which 20 percent of Americans are victims.

“What we want to do is make sure the research and the teaching and the things that are happening at the University actually make it out to the consumers who are impacted by [identity theft],” Berkelaar said.

Anna Griffin, communications coordinator at the Center for Identity, said the project is meant to help the groups that are most susceptible to identity theft — including older adults, children, small businesses, veterans and active-service men and women.

State Comptroller Susan Combs said, as the chief financial officer of the state, she understands how serious a problem identity theft is to the average consumer. According to Combs, the average consumer will pay $1,409 every time their identity is stolen. Together, she said, the total economic impact is in the billions. 

“The Department of Justice tried to add up and figure what the financial losses were, and they said, if you aggregate direct and indirect costs of identity theft, you’re looking at about $24.7 billion,” Combs said. 

U.S. Rep. John Carter said he has been working to combat identity theft since his first days in Washington D.C., when he was a member of the House Judiciary Committee. He said even though members of the committee knew that identity theft was a growing problem, there was nothing they could do about it. 

“I heard a statistic in one of my hearings that the fastest rising crime in America was identity theft,” Carter said. “It’s the fastest rising crime because it’s kind of like a Class A misdemeanor. It’s not quite a felony.” 

Carter passed a bill in 2004 that made punishment for identity theft harsher. He said in order to get prosecutors to bring more cases against people accused of identity theft, the punishment would need to be higher because prosecutors want to spend their time on more serious crime. 

Joe McGlynn, communication studies graduate student, said there are many ways to protect your identity, and they should be taken seriously. 

“[You should] change the way you think about your identity,” McGlynn said. “Anytime anyone asks you for a personal piece of information, understand that you’re giving away an important, valuable asset.”

Last year, Americans lost $24.7 billion to identity fraud, but the UT Center for Identity’s new resource center for identity theft, fraud and privacy will offer materials to help prevent more losses.

Lauren Willis, Texas State Comptroller’s office spokeswoman, said Comptroller Susan Combs played an integral role in getting funding for the resource center.

“[Combs secured] $5 million, which interestingly is the largest state-level investment in this sort of thing in the country,” Willis said. “No other state has anything like this.”

Expected to open in summer 2014, the resource center will provide training tactics and packages, iPhone apps, top-10 lists and other materials to help people be more alert to the issue, protect their identities and recover if they have issues, according to Suzanne Barber, the director of the Center for Identity.

Barber said the resource center will do research to determine what people’s most valuable assets are in order to figure out how to protect them..

“We’ll be able to tell you what the best practices are or give you the best app to help you monitor, but a lot of the research in this area hasn’t been done,” Barber said. “It’s key before we can give you some of these great tools and services to do the research.”

Barber said she felt like the University was uniquely positioned to tackle the problem of identity fraud, given the talent of faculty on campus.

“We seek to engage faculty from law, public policy, engineering, the sciences, business and communication because a lot of the issues around identity theft and fraud need a multidisciplinary solution,” Barber said. “We have a top-notch faculty in all of those disciplines.”

Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said the Secret Service has maintained a close working relationship with the Center for Identity since 2010.

“The Secret Service provides the center with subject matter expertise, event speakers and law enforcement ‘best practices’ on issues relating to identity theft,” Leary said.

Barber said, with more identities being stored online, the key to keeping one’s assets safe is to stay vigilant and not to use the same identifying information everywhere.

“We have to have a way of transacting in a trusted way,” Barber said. “We have to be able to trust who it is that we’re giving our information to. So identity becomes so important.”