February 1, 2011

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Local Company Provides E-commerce Anonymity

Spencer Sutherland

February 1, 2011

What would happen to your company if your computers were hacked? What would you lose—passwords? Customer lists? Credit card info? Just a few weeks back, another virus swept through Utah computers, this time targeting web-based email accounts like Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail. While there are worse things than finding that someone has hacked your email and sent Viagra ads to every person in your contact list, it is a very tangible reminder of just how quickly your personal information can be used against you. A study by Javelin Research and Strategy found that more than 11 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2009, resulting in $54 billion in losses by businesses and consumers. While there are plenty of products available to detect compromised data—whether it’s software that catches viruses after they’ve entered your computer or credit monitoring services that alert you when unauthorized activity has already occurred—the market has been short on tools to prevent the problem. Online Armor Salt Lake City-based technology company Kemesa (a name built from the words “keeps me safe”) recently introduced Shop Shield, a product aimed at not only keeping email accounts safe from hackers, phishers and spam, but more importantly, protecting personal data before it is compromised. “The only way that fraud and identity theft is going to stop is when the information isn’t available to steal,” says Kemesa CEO Mike Keough. “What we provide consumers is a masked identity when they’re buying online. Their real information is never out there, so there’s nothing to steal. That’s really the fundamental difference between us and all of the other solutions out there.” Countless websites require personal information, ranging from a simple username to credit card numbers and home addresses. When you offer up this information, it is stored on the site’s databases. Fraud and identity theft are often caused by employees or others who have access to those databases and lose, sell or steal the information. Shop Shield masks personal identity, replacing your real payment and identity information with anonymous data that can’t be used by identity thieves or traced to you. When setting up an account, Shop Shield customers provide their real data to Kemesa. This information is saved on Kemesa’s servers, but is never sent over the Internet in any form. Once the registration process is complete, users simply download a small Shop Shield plug-in and then make online purchases as they normally would. Keough made his first Shop Shield-protected purchase at Amazon.com. “I went to Amazon, found the book I wanted, and went to the checkout. As soon as I clicked the checkout button, the Shop Shield box dropped down on the left side of the screen and asked if I wanted to complete the transaction,” Keough recalls. “On the right side of the screen was the Amazon information. The shipping info was my home address but all of the personal information—my name, credit card number, address—was all completely anonymous. I ordered my book, Amazon got their payment, Shop Shield completely masked my information, and none of my ‘personally identifiable information’ was ever exposed to the merchant.” A Matter of Trust Though Shop Shield prevents other vendors from seeing or storing your data, consumers must be willing to take some risk by offering their information to Kemesa. “There’s no question that there is trust involved, in terms of signing up for the service and giving us your data,” Keough says. “We make it very clear in our service agreements that we do not—and will never—sell or offer any of your information. That would completely defeat our purpose in terms of the services we’re offering.” In addition to offering its word, the company goes to extreme lengths to ensure that users’ data cannot be stolen from their databases. Kemesa prides itself in exceeding even federal banking levels of internal security. And, in addition to the usual security measures of firewalls and encryption, Kemesa also fragments users’ personal data, meaning that data never sits in one place in its entirety. “Even if somebody got their hands on the information—which is farfetched because we’re behind a very secure data center—they would never have all of our information because we fragment it across many servers,” Keough explains. Kemesa also backs up its promise of security with a hefty guarantee. If a customer’s personal information is compromised, the company will pay out up to $10,000 beyond the coverage provided by the customer’s credit card company, insurance company or bank. Paying for Protection Shop Shield is intended to protect merchants as well as consumers. Between 1 and 2 percent of all transactions are fraudulent, Keough says. Kemesa partners with vendors large and small to offer Shop Shield as both an added value to their members as well as a way to protect themselves from counterfeit purchases. Keough says there is also a huge boost to consumer confidence when a company “can tell its customers that their identity will never be sold, used or marketed.”
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