Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Identity Leakage

It's interesting to see how much information you can learn about people just sitting around at the airport.

This past Sunday, I flew out of Dulles airport and running a bit late I arrived just 45 minutes before my flight (so I wasn't sitting around there all that long). What I noticed while I was there:

  • I was able to observe the full name and address for 3 people as they had luggage tags on their carry on luggage which had their name/address visible to all. This doesn't count the other people who had tags, but they happened to be face down, so I don't know what information was on the tag. My recommendation is to either a) use a tag that covers the information, place the information inside of one of the exterior pockets (I put my business card into the top external pocket) or just don't put anything on carry on luggage as you don't need to.
  • I was able to observe the name, airline status and account number on several people as I stood in line for the flight. While this isn't as much information as your complete address, I could easily wreak havoc with your travel plans calling the airline to cancel or rearrange flights or otherwise do interesting things with your airline points. What should you do: Remember that this information is on the boarding pass and don't show it off to everybody standing in line next to you. I keep my boarding pass in my shirt pocket printed side facing in or I keep it inside of the carrier until I'm up in front of the line. Note also that this information is printed on the portion of the pass they let you keep. Don't leave them lying about. Trash them like you would trash any other receipt.
  • Several people had those travel document/ID holders thinking that they are doing what frequent travelers do (which, of course, you never see a frequent traveler use). Problem is that they leak information like crazy. Most people that use them keep their driver's license in the clear holder. So all the way through the security line and while they are sitting around at the airport, anybody who wants to (and has good eyesight) can read all the information there (name, address, dob at least). Putting the passport in there just brags to the world that your a citizen of whatever country (yeah, for some of us that may be obvious, but there's no reason to confirm it for people who don't need to know it). I strongly recommend against using one of these things. If you just have to have such a holder, I would face all the documents in so that you control who gets to see them.

Moral of the story: Be aware of all the places that you leak information and minimize them just as you would want providers to minimize the amount of data they collected about you. Leaking such information opens you to potential stalking, identity theft or other non-fun activities.

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