Forget credit cards and social security numbers, a new lot of identity thieves will soon come after your web profiles, or says security firm Aladdin in their Annual Threat Report. According to the firm, if you don't own and control your online persona, it's relatively easy for a criminal to aggregate the known public information about you in order to create a fake one.

Those Without Social Network Profiles Could Have Online Identities Stolen

This new type of identity theft was listed among other predictions for 2009 in the firm's annual report and was based on previous trends which included a rise in attacks distributed through social networking channels. For example, in 2008, we saw worm writers (like those behind Koobface) taking advantage of the growing popularity of social networks as a means of distributing their worms. As these sites continue to grow, the potential for criminal activity surrounding them will grow as well.

According to Ian Amit, director of research at Aladdin's Attack Intelligence Research Center, the potential damage for this new type of identity theft will be "devastating, both on the personal level by creating difficulties in employment, ruining social and professional connections, damaging reputations; as well as on a financial level, such as stealing customers, corporate data,"

To test their prediction, his team was able to set up fake online identities which ended up connecting to the real network of friends and acquaintances easily.

What started as a benign "fun" way to socialize, grew into a professional way to maintain one's network and make new connections, the report notes. Unfortunately, this new type of identity theft, being dubbed "identity hijacking," will become more of an issue in 2009 unless social networking sites come up with better, more trustworthy ways of connecting an online persona to a real person.

Fake Identities Already an Issue

We've already seen some high-profile examples of people creating fake online personas over the past year, the most notable case being that involving Lori Drew and MySpace. In this instance, a mother created a fake online identity to bully her daughter's rival. Now, imagine how much worse things could get if, instead of using fake identities, the person or persons involved in criminal activity were doing so while impersonating you.

The security firm warns that the best method to keep yourself safe is to go ahead and create your own social network profile on the major networks "before someone else does." They also advised caution when accepting friend requests in case the profiles in question are fakes.