6 Grim Truths From the Equifax Breach

Group of business associates discussing data breach informationDigitizing our economy carries immense benefits.  Global commerce can carry on at breakneck speeds that most of us don’t even stop to appreciate.  The paying of bills, transferring of money, and other related tasks can be accomplished in seconds with the swipe of a finger.  You can trade foreign stocks with a mouse click. And the credit information, birth dates, and social security numbers of over half the American public can be leaked to malicious hackers….what a time to be alive.

Here are 6 timely truths we should all be turning over in our minds as the pieces are picked up after the Equifax breach.

1. Full Digital Security Is An Illusion

If the Equifax breach drives home any singular point with resounding clarity, it’s that full digital security is an illusion.  It’s an illusion that data and data security companies will try extremely hard to instill in you.  Resist the siren song, my friends…

Time and again, companies entrusted with the data of U.S. citizens have let it fall prey to hackers.  And you know what?  We should probably expect this for the foreseeable future, at least occasionally.

It’s simply a reality of life that hackers are extremely creative (often ingenious) individuals.  Their ability to bypass institutional defenses is growing at least as quickly as the field of data security itself.  That isn’t to say we should allow indifference to sneak in.  But we should respect reality, and allow it to guide us in taking appropriate defensive measures.

2. Ironies Often Follow Indiscretions

After some of the laughable responses companies have made to being breached, one has to wonder at the sanity of those at the helm.  And the Equifax breach is no exception.

The company has begun offering data protection services to consumers, through its Trusted ID program.  Yes, unfortunately you read that correctly…the very company that failed to protect the data of millions of people is now offering its own data protection services.

Irony is alive and well in the land of Equifax.  (Trust may be another story.)

3. Be Very Wary of the Higher-Ups

One of the most sordid details of the whole breach was its utterly disastrous mishandling by Equifax’s leadership.  The breach itself occurred from mid-May through July, with the date of discovery being July 29th.  The public was not informed until early September.

During this time, a few senior executives with the company (among them John Gamble) cashed out their shares for a grand total of nearly $1.8 million.  While it’s true that the men in question only sold small portions of their overall Equifax holdings, one still senses intuitively that they were trying to extract what value they could (without immediate suspicion) before the ship burned.

If there’s any comfort to be had here, it’s only this: the timing of these trades is so indicative of foul play that it’s almost certain to incite regulatory investigation.  Where that will lead (if anywhere at all) is anyone’s guess at this point.

4. Expect Inadequate Compensation

Part of this crucial point breaks down to some very simple but very dismal math.  Predictably, Equifax has suffered a crushing valuation blow, losing over 33% in value and counting.  That leaves its market value at a tattered $11.6 billion, which breaks down to a princely $81 per victim.

It’s also vital to remember that the $11.6 billion is held in market value (i.e. publicly perceived value) and not cash.  This of course means that the company’s compensation capabilities could go from grossly inadequate to simply nonexistent.

But this at least should warm our hearts.  Equifax is offering a free year of its Trusted ID program to all impacted consumers.  All you have to do is void your right to sue the company and be pitifully compensated for doing so.  What do you have to lose at this point, right?

5. You are a Product To Data Companies

Since we’re slaying illusions today, here’s one more for the pile: you are not a customer to these companies, bestowing your cherished data to be benevolently kept and guarded.  That’s an idea, a marketing gimmick foisted on us.  In reality, you’re a product to them, as we all are.

It would be equally absurd to state that “big data” is inherently evil or malicious.  Of course we’re “products” to them in some sense…the scale of their operations renders us all an endless procession of 1’s and 0’s.  And that’s simply the nature of the beast.

But it’s also extremely important to make this point consciously. Our concepts of these companies largely dictate how we interact with them, regulate them, and ultimately how lenient we are toward them when they hurt us.

6. You’re On Your Own (But You Have Options)

The experiences of many Equifax victims in recent weeks have predictably included a busy signal from the company’s phone lines as they called to make inquiries.

It’s not difficult to imagine that its call centers must be unutterably swamped right about now.  But even so, it’s a telling symbolic moment of the “us and them” element all affected must be feeling at the moment.

A busy phone line is predictable and perhaps excusable to an extent.  But persistent website errors encountered by those who went online after being hung up on by the company?  The aloneness is tangible at that point.

The key is to remember that the responsibility of personal data protection falls to each of us as individuals.  And on that note, here are 101 tips on keeping yourself safe from those who would do you digital harm.

Posted on November 10, 2017 by in Credit Monitoring

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