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Why Pay to be an Identity Thief? Experimental Software Makes It Free

Thieves purchased sensitive personal data from ChoicePoint, but a Carnegie Mellon University researcher can get the same information free on the Web

3 min read

11 March 2005--The U.S. database industry is under a legal microscope following the pilfering of information that could allow thieves to steal the identity of hundreds of thousands of people. In a hearing yesterday, senators threatened legislation to regulate large brokers of financial and other data such as Lexis Nexis, Bank of America, and Choicepoint--all of whom have disclosed major thefts in the last two months. It was the incident at Alpharetta, Ga.-based Choicepoint that kindled the current concern in Washington, D.C. In mid-February the company, whose data is used to check the legitmacy of the potential customers of other companies, revealed that it had been tricked into selling the records of 145 000 people to thieves posing as legitimate ChoicePoint customers.

But why should an identity thief bother with an expensive charade? Carnegie-Mellon University associate professor of computer science, Latanya Sweeney, has found an even simpler way than paying a company in the personal database industry, which critics say is underregulated. She's found a way to extract all the data she wants for free from the World Wide Web. For over a decade, Sweeney has been exploring the intersection of technology and privacy. Her latest work builds on earlier Web-searching tools that create software agents to extract names, address, birth dates, and Social Security numbers from résumés posted online--everything you need to apply for a new credit card in someone else's name. Sweeney will report her findings at a symposium devoted to national security sponsored by the American Association for Artificial Intelligence and held at Stanford Univeristy, in California, 21 - 23 March.

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Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar

You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

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