What the Equifax Breach Teaches Us

identity-theftAs nearly everyone knows, Equifax recently reported a data breach, which has put more than a hundred million people at risk. As the Federal Trade Commission puts it bluntly, “If you have a credit report, there’s a good chance that you’re one of the 143 million American consumers whose sensitive personal information was exposed in a data breach at Equifax, one of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies.”

The facts are undisputed. The breach lasted from mid-May through July. The hackers accessed people’s names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. Yet Equifax didn’t inform the public until September 7th. Within a week of that announcement, both Equifax’s Chief Security Officer and Chief Information Officer were fired, Equifax became a source of anger from the public, a source of investigation by the U.S. government, and a source of ridicule on late night television.

As Wired Magazine stated in an article dated September 14 titled Equifax Officially Has No Excuse, “Capping a week of incompetence, failures and general shady behavior in responding to its massive data breach, Equifax has confirmed that attackers entered its system in mid-May through a web-application vulnerability that had a patch available in March … As the security community processes the news and scrutinizes Equifax’s cybersecurity posture, numerous doubts have surfaced about the organization’s competence as a data steward.”

Even Worse, It was Entirely Preventable

According to Equifax itself, the data breach was due to a flaw in the Apache Struts Web Framework, a widely used enterprise platform. Equifax discovered the bug months before the breach occurred, yet did nothing to fix it. This decision is surprising, as the remedy to fix it was a relatively simple procedure. Equifax was provided clean and simple instructions on what to do. Instead, they chose to do nothing.

At best, the refusal to fix this major flaw was negligent. At worst…well, that’s still to be determined.

Once Trust Is Gone, It’s Gone

Since this ongoing fiasco was first made public, how many people are excited about the immediate prospects of Equifax? Its stock lost more than 35% of its value within days of the news coming out, and has remained significantly lower than its pre-breach levels. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is looking into criminal charges against high-level Equifax executives who sold nearly $2 million in stock before Equifax released the data breach information.

While it is too early to determine the long-term future of Equifax, if it has one, individuals and municipalities have filed numerous lawsuits (including one by the city of Chicago on September 28 of behalf of its citizens, following in the footsteps of San Francisco which filed suit just two days earlier; more cities are expected to follow) and politicians are calling for more investigations. As the lawsuits go through the system and people’s lives are disrupted—this breach affects nearly everyone who has had a credit report run—the news of Equifax’s lax security standards and insufficient response will only linger, as will public outrage.

Are You the Next Equifax?

While it’s true a breach can affect any business at any time, arrogance and a refusal to protect your data will only hurt your business’s rebound and make the prospects for its success questionable. Recent and well-publicized data breaches from Target, Home Depot and others have demonstrated that open communication can go a long way to restoring public trust; a path that Equifax has so far seemed reluctant to follow, at its own risk.

But openness after the fact is only one step—the best step is to be proactive and do all you can to avoid a breach in the first place. That means not only ensuring appropriate safeguards, but also backing up data in case you are hit by a malicious cyber attack that compromises, erases or prohibits access.

As we detailed in a recent blog post about cypersecurity attacks, “formulating a multi-layered plan including continual back-ups and implementing best practices, such as employee education, is of paramount importance.” This includes back-up protection, strong email security, artificial-intelligence-based security and more. In short, you not only need to protect your customers, but yourself. Safeguarding information rewards your customers’ trust but also ensures your company doesn’t miss a beat in the event of a cybersecurity breach.

Learn more about how Single Path’s Security Offerings can help you create a cyber strategy and protect your data and your reputation.

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