Equifax recently came under fire, amidst an onslaught of cyberattacks, when the security of its website software was compromised and the personal information of more than 143 million Americans, almost half of the U.S. total population, was siphoned by hackers. All sensitive financial data in the Equifax database are now imperiled.
The severity of this cybersecurity breach was made known Sept. 7, and is now the worst cyberattack to date. It comes at a time of unrelenting cyberattacks harrying organizations worldwide. This, of course, after Equifax failed to implement improved security practices after already having suffered two previous breaches to its website and to TALX, an Equifax subsidiary. Its string of security debacles, however, is not the only thing it must now address in its public riposte.
Equifax’s repertoire of crises is only growing. Just a few days after the breach was uncovered, but not yet announced, two senior executives and the agency’s CFO sold up to $1.8 million in holdings before the agency’s shares dropped by 14 percent. This, above all, makes the agency’s crisis communications all the more confounding, a troubling strategy in crisis management: the breach was discovered on July 29, and it took Equifax until Sept. 7 to announce it. Mounting problems do not bode well for Equifax, given the imminent lawsuit of as much as $70 billion, in some estimates, to be leveled against the agency.
Whatever the case, the high-risk implications of the cyberattacks are too great to ignore. Credit scores, especially for millennials awaiting to build their own wealth, are everything. Credit is necessary for loans, apartment applications and more.
If you are one of the millions affected, and even if you’re not, this is a learning experience: protection against identity theft is an essential part of financial literacy and adulting.
Here are 10 ways to ensure your protection, as told by the experts:
- Get a password management application to maintain complex passwords for ALL online accounts. Never download applications from third-party sources.
- Enable multi-factor login authentication and sync accounts with a phone number and email.
- Use dummy, non-critical email addresses when you can.
- Sign up for ID theft and (third-party) credit protection services.
- Never give personal information without confirming who you are speaking to.
- Never open suspicious email and click on links.
- Purchase a VPN (virtual private network) app and use it religiously.
- Remove personal information from live social-media accounts.
- Always monitor your bank and credit card statements carefully and report any inconsistencies, transactions you yourself didn’t approve.
- Use debit cards ONLY in ATMs, and credit cards for all other purchases, especially online.
A new security paradigm
We cannot shield ourselves against what even big companies and government agencies cannot. One solace is that we can individually protect ourselves.
There is no silver bullet that makes any of us un-hackable, but avoiding identity theft and other cyber-security threats comes down to applying basic common sense as well as a relatively small investment of time and money.
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