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22 million profiles allegedly at risk

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An on-line database containing the career and contact details of over 22 million business people can be edited by anyone.

The database - put together by US company Eliyon - is extracted from information published on the net (press releases, electronic news services, SEC filings and other online sources etc.) and complied into a single searchable archive. Most of the profiles are incomplete but data covered includes a person's contact information, employment history, board memberships, educational background and other details.

Sensitive profiles are locked but others can be updated without any confirmation of the updater’s identity, Elicit Intelligence, a business intelligence consultancy, discovered. Greg Grimer, founder of Elicit Intelligence, said he realised that Eliyon have insufficient checks in place when he looked up the profile of a couple of his employees on the database.

"When I pulled up each profile and saw an invitation to update it on my screen, it immediately occurred to me that Eliyon had no simple way of confirming I was who I said I was. I clicked on the update link, curious to see what evidence they required, and found I could edit the profile simply by providing an anonymous Hotmail address," he explained.

Elicit Intelligence is concerned that Eliyon’s database can be edited by anyone who claims to be their subject, creating a risk of fraudulent impersonation. Eliyon said that these concerns are overstated.

Company spokesman Brian Payea said that its approach was no different to that of others in the industry. "Eliyon approached several companies, like Monster, who also collect information about people where no verification is required. Their experience confirmed that the percentage of people bent on fraud and malicious tampering with other people’s information is very, very small," he said.

Users don't want a system with tighter security if it meant they had to submit credit card details, he argued. "Eliyon originally tested the beta version of our new product with a security procedure that required each user to provide credit card information for name-matching with the profile to be edited. Extensive user testing revealed that the vast majority of users are sensitive to providing credit cards for verification when no transaction is involved, yet the same users still demanded the ability to update their information," Payea told El Reg.

"Based on that, our beta site has two different levels of security. Most people can update with email verification, and a small percentage who are more likely to be the subjects of tampering require the credit card verification. Those whose names are very prominent on the internet, for instance Enron’s former top executives who have thousands of web occurrences, would require the advanced level of security for a user to update them," he added.

Eliyon said that the integrity of information in its database was of "paramount importance" and "we work constantly to deserve the trust our users place in us". The database is in beta so Eliyon could change its approach. But it hasn't done so as yet despite Elicit Intelligence's warning that its present approach opens the door up to all sorts of mischief.

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Elicit Intelligence's Greg Grimmer said that at the very least Eliyon should ban registrations made using free email accounts. "Elyion is taking too much on trust and as a result leaving people open to having information about them hijacked," Grimmer said.

"Once you (or anyone else) updates your profile it is password locked and relatively secure. But 22 million business people haven't done that yet. Everyone who is anyone is listed in there, and the possibilities for fraudulent use and abuse are great. Eliyon’s database has potential, but in my view they may have taken a shortcut on desirable identity procedures to avoid the costs and difficulties of positively identifying people," he added.

Elicit Intelligence advises business people to check the database, as soon as possible, and secure your profile with a username and password. ®

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