Avast News

The Equifax Hack: The Aftermath

Nancy Nunziati, 8 September 2017

The breach has been stopped, but whether or not you’ve been compromised, there are critical next steps to take.

Updated 9-11-17

The aftermath of the Equifax hack is likely starting to settle in. Affecting 143 million Americans, this colossal security breach is not just a sign of the times for those directly impacted, but a flag for the future.

In a cybercriminal’s hands, the stolen information—which included 209,000 credit card numbers, 182,000 documents containing personal information, plus names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and a yet-to-be-determined number of driver's license numbers—can be used to open a new line of credit, a bank account, and even a driver’s license in your name. You could get struck with speeding tickets, sideswiped by someone stealing your tax refund, or hit with the reality that you suddenly have no access to your own prescription drugs.

 

Recovering from identity theft usually takes months, sometimes years. And the one responsible for cleaning up this mess? It’s you, and only you. And best of luck getting a new cell phone, a student loan, a car, or a mortgage in the meantime.

Since Equifax waited six weeks to tell the world about the breach, the hackers got a six-week jump to take nefarious action. Whether or not you were impacted by the hack, here are our top four suggestions on what you can do now, if you haven’t already:

  1. Consider a credit freeze. If you’re not planning on making any big purchases soon or opening any new credit cards, protect your credit with a freeze. Only companies you already do business with will have access to your info. Do it with all three major credit reporting agencies:
    1. Experian Security Freeze
    2. Equifax Credit Freeze Request Form
    3. TransUnion Credit Freeze Info Page
  1. Set up fraud alerts. If someone tries to apply for credit in your name, you’ll be alerted. This also requires contacting each reporting agency: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
  1. Monitor your credit. Monitoring your credit was a great practice even in the pre-digital world, but considering this hack happened months ago, “essential” is the better adjective today. While Equifax is offering one free year of credit monitoring to all Americans, there is plenty of debate about the terms of service.
  1. Keep an eye on your taxes. While the IRS, state tax administrators and companies in the tax industry announced that they were taking steps last year to make it harder for criminals to steal your identity and your tax refund in the 2016 tax season, we know by now that nothing is guaranteed.

Finally, as always, stay hyper-vigilant about any suspicious activity, from online phishing attempts, scam emails, and even any emails related to this breach. Chances are cybercriminals are already scheming to use this news as a way to bait even more victims by claiming to “help” during this unfortunate time. Question everything, and you’ll stay one step ahead.

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Here’s what we know: consumer credit report giant Equifax announced today that hackers have exploited a vulnerability in the Equifax website, gaining access to names, addresses, birth dates, social security numbers, and in some cases, driver’s license info. This breach is among the largest on record in the U.S., affecting 44% of the entire population.

The hack began in mid-May, and Equifax discovered it on July 29, giving the hackers 2 ½ months to extract data. If you fear your personal info is among the data collected, be sure to check your bank statements. You can also visit the Equifax website to see if you’ve been affected. (Be forewarned you will have to input additional personal info to register for this.) Keep in mind that even if your personal info has been compromised, it may not be used immediately.

This enormous breach of data occurred because so many of our institutions are not focusing enough attention on cybersecurity. It’s a growing concern, as this kind of breach grows more and more common as cybercrime grows more and more sophisticated.

 People are just as vulnerable as institutions, maybe even more so. Although cybersecurity tools available to consumers can NOT protect against institutional breaches such as the Equifax breach, it’s a good time to evaluate how well-protected your own devices are. Familiarize yourself with the tools that can keep you protected and hack-free. Things you can do starting now include:


  • Use an antivirus on all your connected devices.
  • Use a VPN, especially when connected to a public Wi-Fi.
  • Save and secure your login details with a password manager.
  • Maintain your privacy and security online by using a secure browser.

There are many things in life not within our control, so let’s protect the things we can. Avast offers a basic package of next-gen cybersecurity for free. Visit our website to learn more.