LifeLock wants to protect today's active Web user from identity theft

By Richard Nieva , written on January 18, 2013

From The News Desk

The past hasn’t always been sunny for LifeLock. It’s been almost three years since the Tempe, Arizona-based company, which provides anti-identity theft services, had its CEO Todd Davis publicly embarrassed. As a marketing ploy, he listed his social security number on the LifeLock website and in ads, only to fall victim to identity theft himself numerous times. The company has also been accused of shady dealings by the FTC, including critiques of fear mongering to customers and drawing a $12 million fine in 2012 for deceptive business practices.

But since then, LifeLock tapped ex-Yahoo executive Hilary Schneider as its president in September, and the company is focused on growth. Schneider helped lead the company through its public debut just a month later. The IPO was viewed by the press as unimpressive, but Schneider says she pays no attention to it. When asked how she thinks it went, she coyly replies, “It’s good to be a public company.”

Next week, the company is giving itself more of a Silicon Valley presence. Lifelock is opening an office in Sunnyvale, CA, where Schneider’s old company Yahoo resides.

LifeLock’s services include scanning websites known to sell your personal information and removing your name from mailing lists for preapproved credit offers. The big marketing focus is a $1 million guarantee that if your identity does get stolen, the company will spend that much on lawyers and investigators to help you recover.

Those services have been criticized in the past, but the outlook for an anti-identity theft company is a bit different today than it was even in 2010. One primary difference is the proliferation of having multiple mobile devices, and more mobile devices in the ecosystem in general, says Schneider. While the company has been accused of using scare tactics in the past, the claim actually seems reasonable.

Some security experts had called 2012 the year of the breach, and forecasts for 2013 look similar. Lookout -- a mobile security company focused on the Android platform --  said 18 million Android phones could be hit with malware this year. Although malware doesn’t necessarily equate to identity theft, it is a way for thieves to get the information.

Two other big risk factors Schneider mentions are being on numerous social networks and engaging in a lot of ecommerce. These seem like pretty obvious points, to a degree: A person riding in a car is more likely to crash than a person not riding in a car. But it does score the complete change of the online environment. There are over a billion people on Facebook and 200 million on LinkedIn. There’s probably ridiculous overlap there. Earlier this week, eBay announced Q4 revenues of almost $4 billion. We’re not going to stop using these services.

There’s one other little talked about outlook change that could affect companies like LifeLock in a nuanced way. I asked Schneider about the new prominence of hacktivist groups like Anonymous. While LifeLock primarily serves individuals, the company does have large enterprise and business customers. There’s no telling why a political hacker might target someone, but they’ve been known to target organizations both government and corporate, if it means proving a point about something they protest. “The reality is, groups like Anonymous are out there,” says Schneider. “We are in a gnarly space that will only get more gnarly.”

The good news is that the Web has reached a level of maturity that makes the days of old school GeoCities and Angelfire websites seem like forever ago. Now we’ve got numerous social networks, ecommerce for the most part a well-oiled machine with global operations and we’re accessing the Internet from more devices than ever before. But vigilance has to catch up to it.

[Image Credit: Tawheed Manzoor on Flickr]