Sebastián Stranieri, VUsecurity: “identity theft spiked dramatically during the pandemic”

The pandemic has brought a rather immediate switch to completing all sorts of tasks online which is evident in both corporate and home environments. Unfortunately, people feel more comfortable and start to forget about the potential dangers lurking in cyberspace.

As a result, malicious threat actors are taking advantage of users who have let their guards down to steal identities and exploit them for illegal purposes. Today, it’s not always enough to secure your accounts with strong passwords – companies and relevant institutions should also take precautionary measures to stop identity theft.

Today, we talked to Sebastián Stranieri, the Founder of VUsecurity – a company that provides users with identity and fraud prevention. We asked about effective IT solutions for identity verification, the most prominent cyber threats, and identity protection tips.

Tell us, how did the idea of VU originate? What was the journey like since your launch in 2007?

As a founder, I came up with the idea when I went with my grandmother to a state office to provide Proof of Life to get her pension. We spent several hours waiting at the office, despite the procedure being relatively quick. In those moments, I thought there must be a way technology can improve not only the access to identity verification but also the access, effectiveness, and efficiency of these processes.

Today, VU has a presence in more than 27 countries and offers modular cybersecurity solutions that live in citizens' and businesses’ existing systems, using a novel combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. The company coined the concept of an "online persona" and provides an all-in-one, seamless user authentication process.

Can you tell us what you do? What are the main issues you focus on?

VU provides robust identity verification for its users which allows for a more holistic authentication paradigm. Through the combination of traditional cybersecurity controls with geolocation, biometrics, and user behavior analysis based on machine learning, VU enables a continuous authentication process. So, the user is seen as a whole, rather than a set of credentials. Currently, the company provides secure and frictionless digital experiences to more than 350 million people over the world.

The main issues VU focuses on include digital identity, fraud prevention, cybersecurity risk management, and identity access management.

What technology do you use to ensure secure and frictionless identity verification?

VU uses artificial intelligence to match a photo of a person and their ID document. The platform then uses machine learning for anti-spoofing on both the ID card and photo to confirm that the ID card is real and the photo is not a screen photo or a photo of a photo.

The platform additionally uses machine learning to study and analyze customer behavior to detect and prevent fraud. Solutions are delivered mostly via API or SDK, are easy to implement, and can be integrated into any existing platform, app, or system.

Have you noticed any emerging cyber threats as a result of the pandemic?

Identity theft spiked dramatically during the pandemic and subsequent online surge. The US Federal Trade Commission received 1.4 million reports of identity theft in 2020, double the number of the previous year. Meanwhile, ransomware attacks have increased, with one person being hit with ransomware every 10 seconds in 2020.

Although organizations and individuals are investing more money and education in protecting themselves online, malicious actors are getting more sophisticated with their attacks. Industries that are currently most likely to be targeted are banking, retail, and utilities.

In your opinion, what are some of the biggest challenges companies run into during their digital transformation process?

The complexity of technology has meant that companies are having to navigate new, equally complex risks. The majority of organizations operate in the cloud and use artificial intelligence or machine learning in some capacity. However, many organizations aren't fully aware of the cybersecurity gaps within these spaces or don't know how to respond when they are hit with an attack.

This vulnerability is compounded by businesses not designating someone to oversee cybersecurity activities. For example, 45% of respondents from one study said their organization lacks a reliable cybersecurity leader.

Additionally, in a landscape where cybersecurity threats are rising and becoming more damaging, companies are struggling to meet the financial costs of protection. The average spending per employee for cybersecurity coverage is $2,691, which businesses that have already had to grapple with hardship in the pandemic cannot easily afford.

Could you share some identity protection tips? What can average Internet users do to protect their identity?

Rather than use multiple platforms to manage and store their ID information, people should consider consolidating their ID in one, secure place on a blockchain. Because of blockchain's heightened security and immutability, there is a much lower chance of malicious actors being able to access the information there and use someone's identity. Third-party apps and services can request to verify the ID when necessary (for example at the airport or when logging into a digital bank account) but they can't keep the data, nor can their entryway open doors for others to steal the identity.

Additionally, what should be done immediately if one’s identity was, after all, stolen?

If the theft takes place through a social media account, users will have to check the two-factor authentication process they signed up with, like their phone number or recovery email. The majority of social media platforms have online processes to help users take back control of their accounts.

However, if the theft happens via a bank account or a retailer who has access to their financial data, the user should immediately change all their passwords. Afterward, they should make a formal complaint with the bank or organization, and also with data protection institutions that every government has.

What identity verification methods do you think will become widespread in the near future?

Biometrics are already common but with the arrival of Web 3.0 and the Metaverse, biometrics will have to become even more precise. The complex nature of these spaces and the increasing speed and accuracy of attackers means that how the technology takes our singularities has to be perfected. Systems need to be more adept at registering when a person, and not a photograph, is being verified.

Would you like to share what’s next for VU?

We're constantly working to make our products better to offer even more value to our clients and partners. We want to be ahead of the upcoming needs of multiple industries as the internet and way of living change.

We've just signed a new agreement with Telefónica, to collaborate on a global service named Access & Authentication which uses zero-trust mechanisms based on adaptive multi-factor authentication (MFA), facial recognition, and voice biometrics to protect organizations from theft and misuse of corporate credentials.

Also, we have just achieved a milestone – VU now has 200 collaborators, double the number we had when we started in 2021.

Moving forward in 2022, our target markets are the United States, Mexico, Brazil, and Europe where we're already honing our efforts to positively impact the lives of people and organizations.