It has been over six months since the massive hack of credit monitoring company Equifax, and over three since the attack was disclosed. We now know that 145 million Americans (and 15.2 million Europeans) have been affected.
Due to the data stolen—names, social security numbers, addresses—the victims of the Equifax hack must be wary of their credit for the rest of their lives. Attackers can use leaked data to create profiles for spear phishing attacks or round out existing profiles, making identity theft even easier to perpetrate.
We covered the data breach in a previous blog post, “Equifax Hack 101: What You Need to Know to Keep Your Credit Safe,” but the news hasn’t stopped rolling in. In this post we address new developments, and additional actions you, as an individual or as a small business owner, can take to mitigate the hack.
Protecting Your Personal Data
Our initial post details credit monitoring and credit freezes. Some agencies recently introduced a “credit lock,” which they claim is easier and less expensive for the user while also more effective. The difference between a lock and a freeze is that a freeze is state-monitored, and a lock is controlled by the company only. “I take strong exception to the credit bureaus’ increasing use of the term ‘credit lock’ to steer people away from securing a freeze on their file,” says Brian Krebs of Krebs On Security. Don’t be fooled by credit lock offers.
You can also talk to lenders (mortgages, banks, etc.) about what steps they are taking to prevent someone from misusing leaked information. Challenge these organizations to take additional steps like providing internal credit monitoring alerts to keep customers safe.
Tax return filing fraud is one thing that credit freezes or monitoring cannot protect. File as early as possible to prevent your refund from going to a scammer. This is not a new problem. The IRS recently issued reminders and new alerts regarding tax fraud.
While most of the information obtained from the Equifax hack was actually already in the hands of tax fraudsters, remain vigilant because criminals are continuing to adjust their tactics. The IRS even reports instances of fraud targeting hurricane victims and tax professionals in addition to the average citizen.
The Troubling Behavior within Equifax
The hack itself isn’t the only problem with Equifax.
After a data breach, many companies are able to save face by being upfront with customers, providing adequate solutions, and cracking down on security. Unfortunately, Equifax missed these cues.
The site Equifax set up for customers to check if they were affected by the hack continues to cause problems. Because Equifax failed to secure similar domains it was susceptible to phishing scams. Thankfully, the third-party sites (one actually directed to by Equifax itself) were benevolent—pointing out how easily scammers could use a similar domain to obtain your information. Then, in early October, Equifax temporarily took down a page about the hack because it, too, had been hacked. Criminals injected malicious code to trick users into downloading adware from fraudulent links.
As of November 3rd, Equifax’s internal investigation into allegations of suspicious trades made by top Equifax executives concluded that none of their employees were guilty of insider trading. These allegations are still under investigation by the House Financial Services Committee.
Moreover, Equifax was allegedly warned about the vulnerabilities to its systems one year ago in December by a security researcher. “These allegations, if accurate, reinforce indications that Equifax—which has a significant business selling data protection tools—was shockingly negligent and incompetent when it came to security,” says Jeff John Roberts of Fortune Magazine.
These problems have been a cause of concern for many consumers, however it is important to note that Equifax is continuing to offer credit freeze at no charge through January 31, 2018, and, through TrustedID, offers free credit monitoring and up to $1 million in identity theft insurance.
Can We Expect Any Changes to the Industry?
Beyond being proactive with your personal protection, customers must look to Congress and other government agencies to implement changes. Speak to your representatives about your concerns for the future. Many are already investigating reasons why the Equifax hack was possible and ways to prevent hacks like it in the future.
Laws also need to change regarding reporting compliance. Lawmakers and industry leaders agree that consumers should have been alerted to the Equifax hack far earlier.
In our initial article, we noted that several class-action lawsuits were being filed against Equifax; however, after an October 24 vote by Congress to disallow class-action suits against banks and credit companies, the future of these cases is unclear.
After initially trusting Equifax with a “bridge” contract for work on the IRS’s Secure Access program, the Government Accountability Office rescinded the contract, at least temporarily. They may work with another credit monitoring agency on the project, but some members of Congress are questioning the rationale behind trusting any credit bureau with so much data.
It’s possible we may be looking at the end of the social security number—or at least moving away from the strict reliance we now place on SSNs for identity. The best identity theft protection may be to stop using easily hacked information.
Tips for Small Businesses
Small businesses should look at the response from Equifax and at the controversy surrounding it and wonder what they can do differently when dealing with private information.
The first step for small businesses should be a thought experiment. Think about potential risk as well as known and unknown vulnerabilities in your internal network. Do you trust your current cyber security company to protect your data from a data breach? What are the consequences of a data breach like the Equifax hack in your company? What would the cost to your company be?
For many small businesses, investing in stronger cyber security protection is a clear solution. Your IT department or an outside cyber security company can help analyze your systems. If personnel are constantly putting out fires, as seems to be the case with Equifax, they may not be able to keep everything else up to standard.
Invest in security that provides monitoring, analysis, and dedicated attention. At Anderson Technologies, a St. Louis IT company, we often start with a full network audit, helping clients identify areas of concern and providing the path to a more secure network.
Beyond your network, take time to train and retrain employees on the technology used and best practices for staying safe, both online and off. The best identity theft protection is education. Get a free ebook from Anderson Technologies to teach your employees the foundations of cyber security safety now!