A quick poll: Which recent disaster was the worst: (A) Hurricane Harvey; (B) Hurricane Irma; (C) the Equifax data breach?
Equifax said its systems were breached starting in mid-May until it discovered the hack on July 29. It informed the public on September 7.
The United States is home to about 240 million adults. Equifax provided enough personal details to make 143 million of them vulnerable to identity theft. Add all the other remaining big breaches, account for overlap, carry the one, and you end up with, in round numbers, everyone.
The bad guys have something in common with the Social Security Administration: They both know your social security number.
It’s long past time to fix this mess. And since nobody is stepping up to the plate, it’s time for a modest proposal from the Keep the Joint Running Think Tank, otherwise known as yours truly with a bottle of beer in his hand and a keyboard in front of him.
Okay, “fix” might be going too far, but there are some steps we could take that, if not simple, would at least be straightforward. Share them with your senators and congressperson. Starting with the most obvious and working our way down through the list of nearly-as-obvious:
> SSN 2.0: The Social Security Administration should issue each of us a brand-spanking-new social security number that nobody other than it and you know about. Except, that is …
> Business access to SSN 2.0: Some businesses do have a specific need for some individuals’ social security numbers. SSN 2.0 redefines business use of social security numbers. As of now it’s a right. Under SSN 2.0 it becomes a privilege — soliciting and storing an individual’s social security number will be illegal, except for businesses that have a demonstrable need. Any other company caught storing social security numbers in any company database will be immediately liquidated.
> SSN 2.0 certification: In order to be awarded the right to store social security numbers, applicants must prove compliance with the agency’s data protection requirements. Chief among these:
– Universal encryption of every bit of stored data. No, not just personally identifiable information (PII). Everything. That eliminates the possibility of the “Oops — we missed that one! Sorry …” factor. Too expensive? Don’t be ridiculous. Compare this expense to the cost of fixing the massive level of identity theft we’re in for.
Oh, by the way … does anyone reading this think the data Equifax lost was encrypted? Me neither. Which leads to this question: What? And this one: Seriously?
– AI-based intrusion detection: Companies that encrypt all their data can still be breached, and decryption keys can be stolen — through social engineering techniques if not hacking.
Even with stolen decryption keys a breach isn’t that big a deal. An undetected breach is a big deal. The use of AI techniques to detect intrusions is in play right now. There’s simply no valid reason other than bad budget priorities for failing to detect and address a breach for a month or more.
– The fundamentals: Keeping current with patches, rotating encryption keys, role-based identity management applied to all employee transitions, white-hat hacking … you know, not even best practices, as if there was such a thing. Just the minimum standards of basic professionalism.
– Keep the PR department out of it: I don’t care if the breach makes the company look bad. The company’s image really isn’t the issue.
> FBMA: For hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes we have FEMA. For massive data breaches we have bupkis. It’s time to create the Federal Breach Management Administration. FEMA in Houston has, I think, demonstrated the validity of federal government intervention in disasters of a certain size and scope. This is just as logical in the virtual world as the physical one.
I know many of KJR’s subscribers have a libertarian bent, and don’t think the Federal government has any business regulating or involving itself in the financial transactions between two parties.
After all, immediately after reporting the breach (which is to say about four months after the breach itself), Equifax offered everyone affected a free identity theft monitoring service.
Because of course I’m going to trust the company that lost my data to let me know my data has been stolen.
And oh, by the way, as reported by The Denver Post’s Tamara Chuang, (“Clearing up confusion on the Equifax data breach, no thanks to Equifax,” 9/8/2017) those foolish enough to sign up inadvertently gave up their right to sue.
Just an opinion here: One important role for government is evening out a hopelessly asymmetrical balance of power.
Like, for example, the imbalance between Equifax’s power to collect data about you and your power to avoid doing business with it.