PACKET RAT: Rat wonders if he's really who he says he is

The Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

You could never accuse the Rat of being out of touch with his identity. There aren't that many six-foot-tall anthropomorphic rodents walking around to begin with, let alone in government service. Even if there were, given the whiskered one's reputation, he doubts anyone would try to pose as him. But there are plenty of reasons lately to be concerned about keeping a handle on one's identity.

First it was revealed that ChoicePoint, a data warehousing company that tracks the personal information of millions of Americans, had been hoodwinked into turning over data on hundreds of thousands of people. ChoicePoint collects information for background checks and fraud prevention for both government and business customers. In this instance, the crooks posed as legitimate businesses seeking data on clients.

Not a government IT problem, you say? The Rat begs to differ. 'The bad guys fooled local governments before they fooled ChoicePoint,' the cyberrodent snarled one morning as he and his wife paid the month's bills, stuffing envelopes with money orders. Suffice it to say, the latest rash of identity thefts has done little to soothe the Rat's paranoid tendencies.

The bad guys got past ChoicePoint's screening process by establishing what appeared to be bona fide businesses'using stolen identities. They then claimed to be doing background checks on customers and ripped off information on another 750 people on their way to gaining access to the personal data of over 140,000 more people.

'It's a good thing you and I do all our business through a human proxy,' the wirebiter told his wife, picking up a money order made out to the phone company. 'And at my agency command bunker, our background investigations are performed by folks a lot less inclined to share what they find out.'

But that doesn't mean his Ratness is out of the woods. As if the ChoicePoint fiasco weren't a big enough whoops, Rat's friends at GCN broke the news that Bank of America recently admitted some of its data on federal employees'1.2 million federal users of its purchase and travel cards'had gone missing.

Apparently, backup tapes holding the data disappeared in December and the bank just recently began alerting government cardholders, including some senators.

'Rep. Chuck Schumer says he heard the tapes were stolen by airport baggage handlers,' the furry one fumed. 'With security like that, I bet the bank encrypted everything with a key like 'password,' too.'

And if the New York Democrat is right, all this is just the grease congealed at the top of the cesspool.

Schumer has alleged that Westlaw (www.westlaw.com), a legal information service, lets just about anybody access its People-Find database, where one can get Social Security numbers and other information based on as little as a partial name or partial Social Security number.

The only thing people who pay for the service must do to satisfy Westlaw, according to Schumer's staff, is promise not to use it illegally. Westlaw officials disagreed, saying their access controls 'go beyond federal law and current industry standards.'

'I promise never to steal your identity,' the Rat's wife said sweetly. 'As if I could do anything with it. Ted Kaczynski had more of a credit record than you do.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at .

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