It’s the morning after news hit that Equifax was the target of a massive security breach that impacted as many as 143 million people. For many involved, this means that personal information like social security numbers and addresses could have been accessed by a nefarious third party. The adrenaline has subsided after a restless night’s sleep, and now nearly half the United States is mulling over what options they have to protect themselves.
The answer is: not much. As of right now, Equifax has been vague about who’s been directly affected, and there’s no way to know with certainty. The website it set up, EquifaxSecurity2017.com, only tells you if your data wasn’t compromised, and that’s only after you give them more personal data.
But given the magnitude of the breach, it’s most important that Americans become aware of what’s going on. And if you haven’t already, you should probably implement some form of credit-monitoring service.
Signing A Deal With The Devil?
Along with checking to see if your data was impacted, Equifax now offers a free service on the same website that gives consumers access to robust credit monitoring for a year. The monitoring will inform customers of changes to their credit and whether or not third parties have accessed stolen data. Admittedly, this puts people in a very awkward bind: Do they use a free service offered by the very company let their information be breached?
As an alternative, you could turn to paid offerings from competitors like Experian and TransUnion (which is what USA Today recommends people do). But Equifax’s free service already incorporates all three bureau credit monitoring, meaning it runs reports from its competitors to make sure no credit changes go unaccounted for.
Security journalist Brian Krebs recommends people take things a step further and freeze their credit. In a post today, he said it’s best to assume that your data has already been compromised. Krebs writes, “credit monitoring services typically only look for new account fraud and do little or nothing to prevent fraud on existing consumer credit accounts.” He goes on to explain that Equifax’s free service is likely just a way to rope in future customers too:
The fact that the breached entity (Equifax) is offering to sign consumers up for its own identity protection services strikes me as pretty rich. Typically, the way these arrangements work is the credit monitoring is free for a period of time, and then consumers are pitched on purchasing additional protection when their free coverage expires. In the case of this offering, consumers are eligible for the free service for one year.
Beyond credit monitoring and freezes, it’s also important to keep a close eye on all your finances. Credit card numbers may have also been disclosed, so it’s important to make sure no unauthorized charges have been made to your existing cards.
One lesson here is to implement credit monitoring and use it before breaches occur. Stolen personal data can persist on the web for quite a long time–and, unlike credit cards, social security numbers are very difficult to change. Beyond that, it’s just wait and see if Equifax will take further steps to fix this mess. The last 17 hours for the company have been sloppy, and all of our personal data hangs in the balance.