THE MAGAZINE

Worth a Look: Identity Finder

By John Wagley

Sometimes firewalls, antimalware, and other computer defenses may not be enough to keep the personal data—such as personal identifying client information—on your computer from being stolen by identity thieves. One product, from Identity Finder, of New York, can scour users’ computers for sensitive data, finding it before it might be used in identity theft.

Scanning deep within computer hard drives, it can pinpoint data such as Social Security and driver’s license numbers, birth dates, address information, and more than a dozen other kinds of personal data. It also features additional security tools, including file encryption and a digital shredder, that overwrites data before deleting it.
 
The product comes in three basic versions: Home, Professional, and Enterprise. Professional version 4.1, reviewed here, offers a handful of functions not on the home version, including the ability to search for more types of data and more scanning options. The enterprise version mainly differs in its ability to scan servers and remote computers.
 
When first opening the software, users are given the option of conducting a basic search, called “AnyFind.” They can also choose a more advanced search option.
 
Users choosing AnyFind are first presented with an intuitive wizard. First, they are shown nine basic types of information that can be included in a search by checking a box. Users are then asked whether they would like to search any of four kinds of international data, including tax file numbers from Australia and national insurance and health services numbers from the United Kingdom.
 
The next step gives the option of adding any personal data. Users can input personal information in categories on the left of the screen, click “add,” and then have it listed in an AnyFind search box on the right.
 
Users can then choose where to look. Options include standard and compressed files (including Microsoft Word, Adobe Reader, and other documents), browsers, and e-mail programs. The program currently scans Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Outlook Express and Thunderbird. Users can also choose to run the search in either “Documents and Settings,” “My Computer,” the computer registry, or all three locations.
 
A click of a button starts the scan, and a status window shows the exact number of files and other locations scanned as well as the number and kinds of data detected. After five or 10 minutes a list of discovered data is then presented.
 
One box shows a list of items. When these are clicked on, a view pane to the right shows the context surrounding the found data; the data itself is highlighted in yellow. With each piece of data highlighted, users can check one of six boxes. These include the option to: shred the data; scrub it (blanking out the personal data but leaving the item intact); secure it by placing it into an encrypted file; place it into the recycle bin; or ignore it.
 
When I ran the program, the results were numerous and detailed. There were a great number of instances in which information, such as e-mail addresses and telephone numbers, was discovered that I had previously entered into word processing documents, for example. There also appeared to be many instances in my case, however, in which discovered contact and other data appeared to relate to developers of software programs installed on my computer. Sorting through the discovered data can take time. To help with this, the product offers a filtering option as well as the ability to save the results for later.
 
The more advanced search option offers a host of customizable options, which can help users “quickly identify” at-risk data, according to the vendor. A search can be conducted that only looks for address information from certain states, for example, or just for certain zip codes. Another option lets users choose to only search for data that is paired with another type of information. These types of advanced searches would probably be most suited for users who handle large quantities of data, or perhaps just certain data types.
 
Identity Finder also includes a settings tab, which provides options such as conducting scheduled searches and choosing to have search results automatically saved in a particular folder. With the product’s built-in encryption function, users can encrypt files with just a few clicks.
 
Tools also include a digital shredder with the option of choosing how many secure passes are made to destroy data. A system clean-up option deletes traces from Internet Explorer, Firefox, the recycle bin, and other areas.
 
The professional edition could be well-suited for any professional or small business handling sensitive data. Its ability to find and secure such data could be growing more important as more states enact stricter laws governing the protection of personally identifiable information. The added security tools could, for some, help justify a decent portion of the professional edition’s cost. The easy-to-use wizards and interface make the tool a very user-friendly type of computer protection.
 
Pros. Easy-to-use, highly detailed scans. Offers additional security functions such as file encryption and a digital shredder. It is available for PCs and Macs.
 
Cons. It does not scan e-mail programs other than Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Outlook Express and Thunderbird.

Where to get it. It can be downloaded from identityfinder.com. Prices depend on quantity of licenses purchased. The professional edition costs about $30 for one license, for instance, and about $200 for 10. Licenses need to be renewed annually.
 
Enterprise versions begin at about $1,000 for small businesses, with service and maintenance costing about 20 to 30 percent of the upfront costs per year.

 

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