From May thru July of this year, over 143 million consumers had their personal information obtained by hackers in a monumental Equifax data breach leaving them vulnerable to a range of issues from the fraudulent use of their credit cards to identity theft. As solopreneurs, and small business owners, you may be more vulnerable due to a potentially greater number of recurring transactions and overall usage of credit cards.
My friend, best-selling author, and speaker, Sam Richter blogged about the breach from the vantage point of being both an internet security expert and somewhat conspiracy theorist. If you are curious about why senior management dumped stock before the breach announcement and why there is a deluge of inaccurate information with regard to whether or not you have been breached, I suggest you read his blog.
Conspiracy theories aside, the most important questions are these – have you been affected and what should you do about protecting yourself?
Here are 3 steps to take right now:
- Find Out If You Have a Possible Breach
Although there are many forums discussing the Equifax data breach, the trusted source is the FTC. This is an excerpt taken directly from the FTC site:
“There are steps to take to help protect your information from being misused. Visit Equifax’s website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com. (This link takes you away from our site. Equifaxsecurity2017.com is not controlled by the FTC.)
Find out if your information was exposed. Click on the “Potential Impact” tab and enter your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is sensitive information, so make sure you’re on a secure computer and an encrypted network connection any time you enter it. The site will tell you if you’ve been affected by this breach.
Whether or not your information was exposed, U.S. consumers can get a year of free credit monitoring and other services. The site will give you a date when you can come back to enroll. Write down the date and come back to the site and click “Enroll” on that date. You have until November 21, 2017 to enroll.”
- Enrol in Credit Monitoring
Initially, by continuing to enroll in Equifax’s year long credit monitoring, one would give up their right for any arbitration. Thanks to pressure from consumer advocacy groups, Equifax recanted its position with the following statement:
“enrolling in the free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection products that we are offering as part of this cybersecurity incident does not prohibit consumers from taking legal action.”
Not all credit monitoring services are created equally. There are many free offerings online however companies such as Lifelock and Experian have the financial backing to stay up-to-date with their services. Both companies will let you know of any potential credit applications in your name as well as transactions.
- Change Your Passwords and Clear Your Cache
If your Google settings are saved at ‘save passwords,’ and ‘save autofill settings,’ you might be exposing yourself to a greater opportunity for fraud. As painful as it is to change passwords, it is highly recommended that you do it every 30-60 days. Passwords that contain both small and capital letters, symbols, and numbers, are much more secure than your pet’s name. Many people, especially those who did not grow up with the reality of having to deal with internet security issues tend to use easier passwords and often have the same password for everything.
Personally, I recommend that my clients create unique passwords for everything and roll them often. There are websites that promise to lock your passwords securely however as we have observed with the Equifax data breach, nothing is secure. Your phone is highly hackable, as is your laptop. Create unique passwords, get an old fashioned address book, keep them in there and lock it in your safe.
Clearing your cache frequently is also helpful. Always clear your cache after doing online banking or submitting any credit card information. Your session information is stored or ‘cached’ and can be visible to hackers.
Lastly, unfortunately we live in a society where our information can become publicly available. It is essential that we protect ourselves and I encourage you to share this article on your social media and with anyone who you think might have been affected.