Christmas is here – almost! And with millions of shoppers going online to do their seasonal shopping, hackers and fraudsters worldwide are in festive mood.

According to CIFAS, the UK’s fraud prevention data sharing scheme, the recession might mean a cheerless Christmas for many as it has turned identity theft and online crime into a massive growth industry.

CIFAS figures for the first three quarters of 2009 show identity theft up 33.1% against the same period in 2008 – and that’s without factoring in the inevitable seasonal surge.

And according to UK-based Tricerion – a supplier of image-based identity authentication – the huge increase proves one thing: that alphanumeric login protection is obsolete.

If banks and online traders really mean it when they wish their customers a merry Christmas, then it’s up to them to make it a truly secure one. And if there’s one thing the experts are agreed on, it’s that alphanumerics has proved unequal to the task of limiting the rise of online fraud.

Christmas, when online shopping is at its busiest, is the time for all professionals in the field of online security to take a good hard look at fraud figures and to ask whether they should be sticking with alphanumerics when it really isn’t up to the job.

It looks like image-based authentication could be shaping up to be the next generation of login security. No technology, however sophisticated, will completely defeat the fraudsters – no matter how cheap and easy to install and use. Sadly, this Christmas will be a miserable one for the thousands of innocent victims of online fraud.