Cyber-security is crucial when almost every aspect of our lives is computerized. Security breaches happen often but not many can compare to the scale and severity of the Equifax data breach in 2017. In the span of around 2 months, hackers got ahold of personal information affecting 143 million Americans, roughly 44% of the population.
Equifax and the Hack
Equifax is one of three major nationwide credit reporting companies, making it a tempting target for hackers/criminals. It is supplied data regarding loans, payments, credit cards, and other financial documents that play an important role in credit scores from third-party companies. Equifax stores personal data of more than 820 million consumers.
The data Equifax obtains is funneled through a web application tool that many corporations use. Hackers found a flaw in the security behind this tool and began extracting consumer information. The hackers were collecting information from mid-May to July. On July 29, the breach was discovered and put to an end.
After intensive investigation, the company announced the breach to the public on September 7, over a month after discovery. The unknown hackers acquired personal information on consumers such as names, birth dates, addresses, social security numbers, credit card numbers, and driver’s’ license numbers. Equifax disclosed that 209,000 credit card numbers were stolen, as well as 182,000 records of “personal identifying information”.
The announcement of the breach caused a dramatic decline in Equifax’s stock price. Investigations began from the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and multiple US Senators. Equifax’s competitors were asked to disclose information on their data protection measures by a senator in hopes to prevent another breach from occurring on such a nationwide scale. Within the first two weeks after the announcement, two dozen class-action complaints piled up.
To brace for the frenzy of customers worrying about the security of their information, Equifax set up a site to let users find out if their information was affected by inputting their name and the last 6 digits of their social security number. After this step, users can also utilize many other services made available including a free credit monitoring service and identity theft insurance.
What You Do In Case of a Data Breach
Many people are not yet aware that their information was affected by the Equifax data breach. Some of these people do not know that they are customers of this company. To figure out if you have been affected by this breach, first and foremost, check to see if Equifax has your information reported as compromised. If your information has been compromised, there are a few things you can do to prevent your credit reports from being affected.
- Review your credit report
- Freeze your credit
- Set up fraud alerts on your credit and debit cards
- Change passwords and security questions
- Monitor credit and bank statements often
The risks from having personal information stolen can be dramatic. Details like social security numbers and birth dates are permanent and criminals can wait until a later date to commit identity theft. These criminals can take out loans and credit cards under your name, commit tax fraud, and even utilize your medical benefits. To stay safe from this, number 5, monitor credit and bank statements often (ideally, weekly) is imperative.
Cybersecurity is now more prevalent than ever. Companies have to stay on top of their security systems in place to prevent breaches from happening. Some experts suggest to encourage non-malicious hacking or white-hat hacking to find holes in the systems that need improvement. However, it is not only up to the company, but also the consumer to be aware of their security risks. Password protection and checking credit card statements often are just a few of the ways you can make sure you do not become a victim of identity theft.
Also published on Medium.