What is 'De-Anonymization'

De-anonymization is a technique in data mining that re-identifies encrypted or generalized information. De-anonymization, also referred to as data re-identification, cross-references anonymized information with other available data in order to identify a person, group, or transaction. 

BREAKING DOWN 'De-Anonymization'

The technology-savvy era is rapidly disrupting the traditional way of doing things across various sectors of the economy. In recent years, the financial industry has seen a lot of digital products introduced to its sector by fintech companies. These innovative products have promoted financial inclusion whereby more consumers have access to financial products and services at a lower cost than traditional financial institutions allow. The rise in the implementation of technology has brought about an increase in the collection, storage, and use of data. Technology tools like social media platforms, digital payment platforms, and smart phone technology have unveiled a ton of data used by various companies to enhance their interaction with consumers. This ton of data is called big data, and is a cause for concern among individuals and regulatory authorities calling for more laws that protect the identities and privacy of users.

How De-Anonymization Works

In the age of big data where sensitive information about a user’s online activities are shared instantaneously through cloud computing, data anonymization tools have been employed to protect users’ identities. Anonymization masks the personally identifiable information (PII) of users transacting in various fields like health services, social media platforms, e-commerce trades, etc. PII includes information like date of birth, Social Security Number (SSN), zip code, and IP address. The need to mask the digital trails left behind by online activities have led to the implementation of anonymization strategies like encryption, deletion, generalization, and perturbation. Although data scientists use these strategies to sever sensitive information from the shared data, they still preserve the original information, thereby opening doors for the possibility of re-identification.

De-anonymization reverses the process of anonymization by matching shared but limited data sets with data sets that are easily accessible online. Data miners can then retrieve some information from each available data set to put together a person’s identity or transaction. For example, a data miner could retrieve a data set shared by a telecommunications company, a social media site, an e-commerce platform, and a publicly available census result to determine the name and frequent activities of a user.

How De-Anonymization Is Used

Re-identification can be successful when new information is released or when the anonymization strategy implemented isn’t done properly. With a vast supply of data and limited amount of time available per day, data analysts and miners are implementing shortcuts known as heuristics in making decisions. While heuristics saves valuable time and resources in combing through a data set, it could also create gaps that could be taken advantage of if the wrong heuristic tool was implemented. These gaps could be identified by data miners seeking to de-anonymize a data set for either legal or illegal purposes.

Personally identifiable information gotten illegally from de-anonymization techniques can be sold in underground marketplaces, which are also a form of anonymization platforms. Information that falls into the wrong hands can be used for coercion, extortion, and intimidation leading to privacy concerns and enormous costs for businesses who fall victims.

De-anonymization can also be used legally. For example, the Silk Road website, an underground marketplace for illegal drugs, was hosted by an anonymized network called Tor, which uses an onion strategy to obfuscate the IP addresses of its users. The Tor network also hosts a couple of other illegal markets trading in guns, stolen credit cards, and sensitive corporate information. With the use of complex de-anonymization tools, the FBI successfully cracked and shut down Silk Road and sites engaging in child pornography.

Success on re-identification processes have proved that anonymity is not guaranteed. Even if groundbreaking anonymization tools were implemented today to mask data, the data could be re-identified in a couple of years as new technology and new data sets become available.

RELATED TERMS
  1. Data Anonymization

    Data anonymization seeks to protect private or sensitive data ...
  2. Personally Identifiable Information ...

    Personally Identifiable Information (PII) is information that, ...
  3. Data Mining

    Data mining is a process used by companies to turn raw data into ...
  4. Coinjoin

    Coinjoin is an anonymization strategy that protects the privacy ...
  5. Dark Wallet

    A digital wallet that enables data anonymization by obfuscating ...
  6. Encryption

    Encryption is a means of securing digital date using an algorithm ...
Related Articles
  1. Tech

    The Rise of 'Private' Cryptocurrencies

    Dash, monero, and other cryptocurrencies with a focus on user privacy are becoming increasingly popular.
  2. Tech

    How Big Data Has Changed Finance

    The vast proliferation of data and increasing technological complexities continues to transform the way industries operate and compete.
  3. Tech

    Blockchain Could Make You—Not Equifax—the Owner of Your Data

    All hype aside, blockchain technology is really good at one thing: taking out the middlemen. Leaky data brokers' days may be numbered.
  4. Tech

    How Blockchain Tech Can Fight Data Breaches

    In the wake of major data breaches, blockchain's ability to anonymize users is touted as a possible solution to rampant identity theft.
  5. Tech

    Data Analyst: Job Description & Average Salary

    Learn about a data analyst career and how much money you can expect to make. Understand the skills and education needed to become a data analyst.
  6. Investing

    Digital Currencies Can't Be Anonymous, Says EU Parliament

    In a recent report, the EUP called virtual currencies a "marginal phenomenon," and one that "cannot be anonymous."
  7. Trading

    The Power Of Social Media: Influencing Trading And The Markets

    Check out the growing power of social media, and how it is being used to predict and influence investment markets.
  8. Financial Advisor

    Top Hacks to Protect Clients from Tax Scams

    There are many ways that clients can be victimized in today’s digital world, but there are also many ways to protect against these invasions. Here are some.
  9. Tech

    Top Problems with Financial Data Aggregation

    A new front in personal finance technology—data aggregation—seeks to make our financial lives easier. But here's why it may be stalling.
  10. Investing

    Google Not Facebook Collects More Data On Users

    It's Google, not Facebook, that users should worry about when it comes to data harvesting.
RELATED FAQS
  1. Is Bitcoin legal in the US?

    Learn about the legality of Bitcoin as a form of payment in the United States, as well as how it is produced and concerns ... Read Answer >>
  2. When should I use seasonally adjusted data from the consumer price index (CPI)?

    Learn what seasonally adjusted data is, how it is determined, and when it should be used to evaluate the information gathered ... Read Answer >>
  3. How reliable are Glassdoor salaries?

    Glassdoor salary information may or may not be accurate, as the website offers users an opportunity to enter salary information ... Read Answer >>
  4. How does Twitter make money?

    Learn how Twitter earns revenue, including how the social media company uses three targeted advertising streams, data farming ... Read Answer >>
Trading Center