Other Opinions

Another security breach, and everyone shrugs

In a brief fit of rare snarkiness, the thought occurred to begin these hen-scratchings by posting my Social Security number, Internet passwords and blood type to save the hackers some precious time.

But why bother? Those folks sitting in their jammies hunched over a keyboard somewhere in Bulgaria probably already have all that data. In case they missed something, let me help. The dogs’ names are Riley and Gracie. Now you have just about everything. So glad to be of service.

When you heard about the security breach at the credit monitoring company Equifax, where the personal information of 143 million Americans had been compromised by cyber thieves, did you shrug?

After all, these invasions of the collective privacy of Americans have been going for some time – banks, hospitals, investment houses and other credit agencies at one time or another have experienced break-ins of their computer systems containing personal information.

Add to that the mischief caused by Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and the periodic data dumps by WikiLeaks, and the world pretty soon starts to look like one giant sieve.

Or simply consider that the uber-secret National Security Agency was hacked earlier this year by cyber brigands who managed to intrude upon the spy agency’s firewalls and steal so-called highly sophisticated cyber weapons.

The Equifax heist seemed like shoplifting a Snickers from a convenience store.

It’s entirely possible, despite the hack being described by one expert as “grisly,” that the streets are not filled with rage over the unwanted, unwarranted, unlimited cyber snoops vacuuming up everyone’s most personal information because so many of us are so eager to invade our own privacy over social media platforms like Facebook, where people have an overwhelming urge to reveal so much about themselves.

What’s a driver’s license number for all the world to see when you’ve already discussed your sex life, or marital status, your recreational drug preferences, or that strange lump on your neck with thousands of your “friends”?

Still, the hacking of 143 million records from a company that is supposed to be monitoring and protecting your credit rating would seem to be at the very least … ironic?

Of course, Equifax leaped into action by forcing the retirements of chief technology officer David Webb and Susan Mauldin, the company’s top security officer. It is fair to say this year’s job performance evaluation would not have gone well.

On the other hand, you have to wonder why a company with more than $3 billion in revenue last year hired someone like Mauldin, a college music major, to be its top security expert. Wouldn’t this be a bit like Tampa General Hospital tapping George Clooney to be its head of surgery because he played a doctor on ER?

It was also noteworthy that three Equifax executives sold some $1.8 million worth of company stock just a few days after the hacking was discovered but before the incident was announced, which caused Equifax shares to lose about a third of their value. But life is full of coincidences, is it not?

Equifax holds great sway over our lives, or at least 143 million of us. Miss a credit card payment and before your can say “Treasure Island,” there will be a black spot posted to your credit rating. A poor Equifax report can influence the interest rates you pay, whether you will qualify for a home loan and perhaps even get hired for a job.

The company is, in short, the snoopy Gladys Kravitz of credit.

Following the Equifax cyber invasion, all manner of financial experts offered up well-intentioned advice on how consumers can better protect themselves.

First, find out if your data has been stolen. Next, freeze your credit at the big three reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Make it a habit to constantly monitor your credit rating. And be aware that because of the massive breach, it may take a while to access your data.

That is all very wise counsel. Then again, the bad guys already have scooped up the personal data of 143 million people.

Not to be terribly cynical, but even if consumers do everything possible to protect themselves, what confidence can any of us have that the hackers won’t be able to infiltrate Equifax again, especially if the company decides to hire a street mime to take over its security needs?

The writer is a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times.

  Comments