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September 8, 2017

Equifax data breach threatens the personal data of 143 million Americans

by John_A

Why it matters to you

Hackers have stolen sensitive data from Equifax, a major credit reporting agency. A free identify theft protection service is being offered to those effected.

Equifax, one of the largest credit reporting agencies and thus possessing a massive cache of sensitive private information, was recently hacked, the breach has put 143 million Americans at risk of having sensitive data stolen.

The New York Times reported on the cyberattack today, which occurred sometime between the middle of May 2017 and July 29 when the intrusion was discovered. What makes the Equifax attack particularly troublesome is the company’s status as a central clearinghouse for sensitive credit-related information including social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and other data that can be used in a variety of ways to harm those affected.

While the Equifax breach isn’t the largest in terms of the number of victims — Yahoo’s attacks involved more people, for example — it’s of concern because of the kind of personal information that was stolen. Examples of sensitive information include 209,000 credit card numbers, personal information relating to credit disputes for 182,000 victims, and data that could be further used to access medical histories, bank accounts, and more.

This isn’t the first attack to target Equifax. An earlier hack stole W-2 data from the credit giant, and other attacks have occurred against the company’s subsidiaries. This breach, however, is by far the company’s largest.

As Pamela Dixon, executive director for the nonprofit research group World Privacy Forum, said in a statement that “This is about as bad as it gets. If you have a credit report, chances are you may be in this breach. The chances are much better than 50 percent.”

According to a press release issued by the office of U.S. Senator Mark Warren, the Equifax attack raises important questions about the role of government in responding to the ongoing threat to personal information.

“While many have perhaps become accustomed to hearing of a new data breach every few weeks, the scope of this breach – involving Social Security Numbers, birth dates, addresses, and credit card numbers of nearly half the U.S. population – raises serious questions about whether Congress should not only create a uniform data breach notification standard, but also whether Congress needs to rethink data protection policies, so that enterprises such as Equifax have fewer incentives to collect large, centralized sets of highly sensitive data like SSNs and credit card information on millions of Americans.”

In calling such attacks “a real threat to the economic security of Americans,” it’s likely that Warren and other government officials will push for legislation creating stronger consumer protections from data theft. Warner has been working on developing just that sort of legislation, and that’s likely to accelerate.

In the meantime, Equifax has established a web site that individuals can visit to learn more about the attack, find out if they’re affected, and enroll in free identity theft protection and file monitoring services. If you’ve ever applied for credit — and that’s most people — it’s a good idea to head over to the site sooner rather than later.




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