Recently, credit monitoring company Equifax was the victim of a serious software vulnerability that exposed the Social Security numbers and other sensitive information for approximately 143 million Americans. This major data breach has caused an uproar regarding the possibility of widespread identity theft. Equifax discovered the hack on July 29 but waited until Sept. 7 to warn consumers. The reasoning behind the public delay is done oftentimes to allow U.S. authorities to investigate the breach further while pursuing the attackers. Further analysis revealed that consumers’ files were accessed between mid-May and July of this year.
Equifax’s system security lapse could be the largest data theft involving Social Security numbers, which is one of the most common methods used to confirm a person’s identity in the United States. Equifax’s breach overshadows the 2015 hack of health insurer Anthem Inc. that involved the Social Security numbers of about 80 million people.
What can be done with the stolen data?
The data stolen by the attackers can be for malicious activity through the dark web (a.k.a. Black Market). The attackers will attempt to use this information illegally by:
- Re-selling victim data to the highest bidder.
- Using the data to update existing, already stolen records for individual consumers that get bought and sold by cybercrime data brokers.
- Selling the stolen data to nation-states, which helps them build better records on potential individuals for recruiting, blackmailing, and intelligence-gathering purposes.
How did the breach occur?
The cause of the Equifax breach is largely believed to have been caused by a successful exploitation of a vulnerability found in the open source software Apache Struts. Apache Struts is a framework used by many top organizations to develop web applications. This list includes websites for airlines, car rental companies, e-commerce, nonprofit organizations, social networks, and government agencies. Apache Struts is a widely used platform which runs on Java.
The vulnerability in question has been known around the cybersecurity community since March 2017. An attack against this vulnerability can allow the attacker to send a specific HTTP requests (typing commands in the address bar) that contain special syntax in order to take advantage of a system that is not up to date. Once the attack is successful, the hacker can use further commands to take over the web server, which allows the theft of database/ application credentials in order to exfiltrate (steal) data from the targeted web server.
How can you protect your credit post-Equifax breach?
Continue to check your credit
Since the Equifax breach happened about three months ago, review your credit report to make sure that no suspicious activity is taking place.
Freeze your credit
Freezing your credit is a great preventative measure. Anyone who attempts to use your credit to open an account would have to use a PIN number that you have created. If you’re not planning on making any big purchases soon or opening any new credit accounts, freezing your credit will benefit you.
Set up Fraud alerts
Setting up a fraud alert may become a hassle while using your credit but it can keep you protected. If anyone attempts to use your credit illegally, that particular company will have to verify your identity before an account can be opened in your name.
Make it a point to keep an eye on your taxes
It is important to keep a close eye on your credit activity because it is possible that someone could use your personal info to file false tax returns to get a tax refund. If this fraudulent activity happens when you attempt to file your taxes, the IRS will provide you with a message stating that your taxes have already been filed. Keeping a close watch on your credit will limit the chance of this type of activity happening to you. If possible, file your taxes as early as possible.
To verify if you have been affected by the recent security breach, contact Equifax.