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Cybersecurity Insurance

Good article about how difficult it is to insure an organization against Internet attacks, and how expensive the insurance is.

Companies like retailers, banks, and healthcare providers began seeking out cyberinsurance in the early 2000s, when states first passed data breach notification laws. But even with 20 years’ worth of experience and claims data in cyberinsurance, underwriters still struggle with how to model and quantify a unique type of risk.

“Typically in insurance we use the past as prediction for the future, and in cyber that’s very difficult to do because no two incidents are alike,” said Lori Bailey, global head of cyberrisk for the Zurich Insurance Group. Twenty years ago, policies dealt primarily with data breaches and third-party liability coverage, like the costs associated with breach class-action lawsuits or settlements. But more recent policies tend to accommodate first-party liability coverage, including costs like online extortion payments, renting temporary facilities during an attack, and lost business due to systems failures, cloud or web hosting provider outages, or even IT configuration errors.

In my new book — out in September — I write:

There are challenges to creating these new insurance products. There are two basic models for insurance. There’s the fire model, where individual houses catch on fire at a fairly steady rate, and the insurance industry can calculate premiums based on that rate. And there’s the flood model, where an infrequent large-scale event affects large numbers of people — but again at a fairly steady rate. Internet+ insurance is complicated because it follows neither of those models but instead has aspects of both: individuals are hacked at a steady (albeit increasing) rate, while class breaks and massive data breaches affect lots of people at once. Also, the constantly changing technology landscape makes it difficult to gather and analyze the historical data necessary to calculate premiums.

BoingBoing article.

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Facebook and Cambridge Analytica

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, news articles and commentators have focused on what Facebook knows about us. A lot, it turns out. It collects data from our posts, our likes, our photos, things we type and delete without posting, and things we do while not on Facebook and even when we’re offline. It buys data about us from others. And it can infer even more: our sexual orientation, political beliefs, relationship status, drug use, and other personality traits — even if we didn’t take the personality test that Cambridge Analytica developed.

But for every article about Facebook’s creepy stalker behavior, thousands of other companies are breathing a collective sigh of relief that it’s Facebook and not them in the spotlight. Because while Facebook is one of the biggest players in this space, there are thousands of other companies that spy on and manipulate us for profit.

Harvard Business School professor Shoshana Zuboff calls it “surveillance capitalism.” And as creepy as Facebook is turning out to be, the entire industry is far creepier. It has existed in secret far too long, and it’s up to lawmakers to force these companies into the public spotlight, where we can all decide if this is how we want society to operate and — if not — what to do about it.

There are 2,500 to 4,000 data brokers in the United States whose business is buying and selling our personal data. Last year, Equifax was in the news when hackers stole personal information on 150 million people, including Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers.

You certainly didn’t give it permission to collect any of that information. Equifax is one of those thousands of data brokers, most of them you’ve never heard of, selling your personal information without your knowledge or consent to pretty much anyone who will pay for it.

Surveillance capitalism takes this one step further. Companies like Facebook and Google offer you free services in exchange for your data. Google’s surveillance isn’t in the news, but it’s startlingly intimate. We never lie to our search engines. Our interests and curiosities, hopes and fears, desires and sexual proclivities, are all collected and saved. Add to that the websites we visit that Google tracks through its advertising network, our Gmail accounts, our movements via Google Maps, and what it can collect from our smartphones.

That phone is probably the most intimate surveillance device ever invented. It tracks our location continuously, so it knows where we live, where we work, and where we spend our time. It’s the first and last thing we check in a day, so it knows when we wake up and when we go to sleep. We all have one, so it knows who we sleep with. Uber used just some of that information to detect one-night stands; your smartphone provider and any app you allow to collect location data knows a lot more.

Surveillance capitalism drives much of the internet. It’s behind most of the “free” services, and many of the paid ones as well. Its goal is psychological manipulation, in the form of personalized advertising to persuade you to buy something or do something, like vote for a candidate. And while the individualized profile-driven manipulation exposed by Cambridge Analytica feels abhorrent, it’s really no different from what every company wants in the end. This is why all your personal information is collected, and this is why it is so valuable. Companies that can understand it can use it against you.

None of this is new. The media has been reporting on surveillance capitalism for years. In 2015, I wrote a book about it. Back in 2010, the Wall Street Journal published an award-winning two-year series about how people are tracked both online and offline, titled “What They Know.”

Surveillance capitalism is deeply embedded in our increasingly computerized society, and if the extent of it came to light there would be broad demands for limits and regulation. But because this industry can largely operate in secret, only occasionally exposed after a data breach or investigative report, we remain mostly ignorant of its reach.

This might change soon. In 2016, the European Union passed the comprehensive General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR. The details of the law are far too complex to explain here, but some of the things it mandates are that personal data of EU citizens can only be collected and saved for “specific, explicit, and legitimate purposes,” and only with explicit consent of the user. Consent can’t be buried in the terms and conditions, nor can it be assumed unless the user opts in. This law will take effect in May, and companies worldwide are bracing for its enforcement.

Because pretty much all surveillance capitalism companies collect data on Europeans, this will expose the industry like nothing else. Here’s just one example. In preparation for this law, PayPal quietly published a list of over 600 companies it might share your personal data with. What will it be like when every company has to publish this sort of information, and explicitly explain how it’s using your personal data? We’re about to find out.

In the wake of this scandal, even Mark Zuckerberg said that his industry probably should be regulated, although he’s certainly not wishing for the sorts of comprehensive regulation the GDPR is bringing to Europe.

He’s right. Surveillance capitalism has operated without constraints for far too long. And advances in both big data analysis and artificial intelligence will make tomorrow’s applications far creepier than today’s. Regulation is the only answer.

The first step to any regulation is transparency. Who has our data? Is it accurate? What are they doing with it? Who are they selling it to? How are they securing it? Can we delete it? I don’t see any hope of Congress passing a GDPR-like data protection law anytime soon, but it’s not too far-fetched to demand laws requiring these companies to be more transparent in what they’re doing.

One of the responses to the Cambridge Analytica scandal is that people are deleting their Facebook accounts. It’s hard to do right, and doesn’t do anything about the data that Facebook collects about people who don’t use Facebook. But it’s a start. The market can put pressure on these companies to reduce their spying on us, but it can only do that if we force the industry out of its secret shadows.

This essay previously appeared on CNN.com.

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Jumping Air Gaps

Nice profile of Mordechai Guri, who researches a variety of clever ways to steal data over air-gapped computers.

Guri and his fellow Ben-Gurion researchers have shown, for instance, that it’s possible to trick a fully offline computer into leaking data to another nearby device via the noise its internal fan generates, by changing air temperatures in patterns that the receiving computer can detect with thermal sensors, or even by blinking out a stream of information from a computer hard drive LED to the camera on a quadcopter drone hovering outside a nearby window. In new research published today, the Ben-Gurion team has even shown that they can pull data off a computer protected by not only an air gap, but also a Faraday cage designed to block all radio signals.

Here’s a page with all the research results.

BoingBoing post.

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Security Breaches Don’t Affect Stock Price

Interesting research: “Long-term market implications of data breaches, not,” by Russell Lange and Eric W. Burger.

Abstract: This report assesses the impact disclosure of data breaches has on the total returns and volatility of the affected companies’ stock, with a focus on the results relative to the performance of the firms’ peer industries, as represented through selected indices rather than the market as a whole. Financial performance is considered over a range of dates from 3 days post-breach through 6 months post-breach, in order to provide a longer-term perspective on the impact of the breach announcement.

Key findings:

  • While the difference in stock price between the sampled breached companies and their peers was negative (1.13%) in the first 3 days following announcement of a breach, by the 14th day the return difference had rebounded to + 0.05%, and on average remained positive through the period assessed.

  • For the differences in the breached companies’ betas and the beta of their peer sets, the differences in the means of 8 months pre-breach versus post-breach was not meaningful at 90, 180, and 360 day post-breach periods.

  • For the differences in the breached companies’ beta correlations against the peer indices pre- and post-breach, the difference in the means of the rolling 60 day correlation 8 months pre- breach versus post-breach was not meaningful at 90, 180, and 360 day post-breach periods.

  • In regression analysis, use of the number of accessed records, date, data sensitivity, and malicious versus accidental leak as variables failed to yield an R2 greater than 16.15% for response variables of 3, 14, 60, and 90 day return differential, excess beta differential, and rolling beta correlation differential, indicating that the financial impact on breached companies was highly idiosyncratic.

  • Based on returns, the most impacted industries at the 3 day post-breach date were U.S. Financial Services, Transportation, and Global Telecom. At the 90 day post-breach date, the three most impacted industries were U.S. Financial Services, U.S. Healthcare, and Global Telecom.

The market isn’t going to fix this. If we want better security, we need to regulate the market.

Note: The article is behind a paywall. An older version is here. A similar article is here.

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Me on the Equifax Breach

Last week, I testified before the House Energy and Commerce committee on the Equifax hack. You can watch the video here. And you can read my written testimony below.

Testimony and Statement for the Record of Bruce Schneier
Fellow and Lecturer, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School

Hearing on “Securing Consumers’ Credit Data in the Age of Digital Commerce”

Before the Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee on Energy and Commerce United States House of Representatives

1 November 2017
2125 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Mister Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today concerning the security of credit data. My name is Bruce Schneier, and I am a security technologist. For over 30 years I have studied the technologies of security and privacy. I have authored 13 books on these subjects, including Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World (Norton, 2015). My popular newsletter CryptoGram and my blog Schneier on Security are read by over 250,000 people.

Additionally, I am a Fellow and Lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government­ — where I teach Internet security policy — ­and a Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. I am a board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, AccessNow, and the Tor Project; and an advisory board member of Electronic Privacy Information Center and VerifiedVoting.org. I am also a special advisor to IBM Security and the Chief Technology Officer of IBM Resilient.

I am here representing none of those organizations, and speak only for myself based on my own expertise and experience.

I have eleven main points:

1. The Equifax breach was a serious security breach that puts millions of Americans at risk.

Equifax reported that 145.5 million US customers, about 44% of the population, were impacted by the breach. (That’s the original 143 million plus the additional 2.5 million disclosed a month later.) The attackers got access to full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers.

This is exactly the sort of information criminals can use to impersonate victims to banks, credit card companies, insurance companies, cell phone companies and other businesses vulnerable to fraud. As a result, all 143 million US victims are at greater risk of identity theft, and will remain at risk for years to come. And those who suffer identify theft will have problems for months, if not years, as they work to clean up their name and credit rating.

2. Equifax was solely at fault.

This was not a sophisticated attack. The security breach was a result of a vulnerability in the software for their websites: a program called Apache Struts. The particular vulnerability was fixed by Apache in a security patch that was made available on March 6, 2017. This was not a minor vulnerability; the computer press at the time called it “critical.” Within days, it was being used by attackers to break into web servers. Equifax was notified by Apache, US CERT, and the Department of Homeland Security about the vulnerability, and was provided instructions to make the fix.

Two months later, Equifax had still failed to patch its systems. It eventually got around to it on July 29. The attackers used the vulnerability to access the company’s databases and steal consumer information on May 13, over two months after Equifax should have patched the vulnerability.

The company’s incident response after the breach was similarly damaging. It waited nearly six weeks before informing victims that their personal information had been stolen and they were at increased risk of identity theft. Equifax opened a website to help aid customers, but the poor security around that­ — the site was at a domain separate from the Equifax domain­ — invited fraudulent imitators and even more damage to victims. At one point, the official Equifax communications even directed people to that fraudulent site.

This is not the first time Equifax failed to take computer security seriously. It confessed to another data leak in January 2017. In May 2016, one of its websites was hacked, resulting in 430,000 people having their personal information stolen. Also in 2016, a security researcher found and reported a basic security vulnerability in its main website. And in 2014, the company reported yet another security breach of consumer information. There are more.

3. There are thousands of data brokers with similarly intimate information, similarly at risk. Equifax is more than a credit reporting agency. It’s a data broker. It collects information about all of us, analyzes it all, and then sells those insights. It might be one of the biggest, but there are 2,500 to 4,000 other data brokers that are collecting, storing, and selling information about us­ — almost all of them companies you’ve never heard of and have no business relationship with.

The breadth and depth of information that data brokers have is astonishing. Data brokers collect and store billions of data elements covering nearly every US consumer. Just one of the data brokers studied holds information on more than 1.4 billion consumer transactions and 700 billion data elements, and another adds more than 3 billion new data points to its database each month.

These brokers collect demographic information: names, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, gender, age, marital status, presence and ages of children in household, education level, profession, income level, political affiliation, cars driven, and information about homes and other property. They collect lists of things we’ve purchased, when we’ve purchased them, and how we paid for them. They keep track of deaths, divorces, and diseases in our families. They collect everything about what we do on the Internet.

4. These data brokers deliberately hide their actions, and make it difficult for consumers to learn about or control their data.

If there were a dozen people who stood behind us and took notes of everything we purchased, read, searched for, or said, we would be alarmed at the privacy invasion. But because these companies operate in secret, inside our browsers and financial transactions, we don’t see them and we don’t know they’re there.

Regarding Equifax, few consumers have any idea what the company knows about them, who they sell personal data to or why. If anyone knows about them at all, it’s about their business as a credit bureau, not their business as a data broker. Their website lists 57 different offerings for business: products for industries like automotive, education, health care, insurance, and restaurants.

In general, options to “opt-out” don’t work with data brokers. It’s a confusing process, and doesn’t result in your data being deleted. Data brokers will still collect data about consumers who opt out. It will still be in those companies’ databases, and will still be vulnerable. It just won’t be included individually when they sell data to their customers.

5. The existing regulatory structure is inadequate.

Right now, there is no way for consumers to protect themselves. Their data has been harvested and analyzed by these companies without their knowledge or consent. They cannot improve the security of their personal data, and have no control over how vulnerable it is. They only learn about data breaches when the companies announce them­ — which can be months after the breaches occur­ — and at that point the onus is on them to obtain credit monitoring services or credit freezes. And even those only protect consumers from some of the harms, and only those suffered after Equifax admitted to the breach.

Right now, the press is reporting “dozens” of lawsuits against Equifax from shareholders, consumers, and banks. Massachusetts has sued Equifax for violating state consumer protection and privacy laws. Other states may follow suit.

If any of these plaintiffs win in the court, it will be a rare victory for victims of privacy breaches against the companies that have our personal information. Current law is too narrowly focused on people who have suffered financial losses directly traceable to a specific breach. Proving this is difficult. If you are the victim of identity theft in the next month, is it because of Equifax or does the blame belong to another of the thousands of companies who have your personal data? As long as one can’t prove it one way or the other, data brokers remain blameless and liability free.

Additionally, much of this market in our personal data falls outside the protections of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. And in order for the Federal Trade Commission to levy a fine against Equifax, it needs to have a consent order and then a subsequent violation. Any fines will be limited to credit information, which is a small portion of the enormous amount of information these companies know about us. In reality, this is not an effective enforcement regime.

Although the FTC is investigating Equifax, it is unclear if it has a viable case.

6. The market cannot fix this because we are not the customers of data brokers.

The customers of these companies are people and organizations who want to buy information: banks looking to lend you money, landlords deciding whether to rent you an apartment, employers deciding whether to hire you, companies trying to figure out whether you’d be a profitable customer­ — everyone who wants to sell you something, even governments.

Markets work because buyers choose from a choice of sellers, and sellers compete for buyers. None of us are Equifax’s customers. None of us are the customers of any of these data brokers. We can’t refuse to do business with the companies. We can’t remove our data from their databases. With few limited exceptions, we can’t even see what data these companies have about us or correct any mistakes.

We are the product that these companies sell to their customers: those who want to use our personal information to understand us, categorize us, make decisions about us, and persuade us.

Worse, the financial markets reward bad security. Given the choice between increasing their cybersecurity budget by 5%, or saving that money and taking the chance, a rational CEO chooses to save the money. Wall Street rewards those whose balance sheets look good, not those who are secure. And if senior management gets unlucky and the a public breach happens, they end up okay. Equifax’s CEO didn’t get his $5.2 million severance pay, but he did keep his $18.4 million pension. Any company that spends more on security than absolutely necessary is immediately penalized by shareholders when its profits decrease.

Even the negative PR that Equifax is currently suffering will fade. Unless we expect data brokers to put public interest ahead of profits, the security of this industry will never improve without government regulation.

7. We need effective regulation of data brokers.

In 2014, the Federal Trade Commission recommended that Congress require data brokers be more transparent and give consumers more control over their personal information. That report contains good suggestions on how to regulate this industry.

First, Congress should help plaintiffs in data breach cases by authorizing and funding empirical research on the harm individuals receive from these breaches.

Specifically, Congress should move forward legislative proposals that establish a nationwide “credit freeze” — ­which is better described as changing the default for disclosure from opt-out to opt-in — ­and free lifetime credit monitoring services. By this I do not mean giving customers free credit-freeze options, a a href=”http://money.cnn.com/2017/09/15/pf/warren-schatz-equifax/index.html”>proposalby Senators Warren and Schatz, but that the default should be a credit freeze.

The credit card industry routinely notifies consumers when there are suspicious charges. It is obvious that credit reporting agencies should have a similar obligation to notify consumers when there is suspicious activity concerning their credit report.

On the technology side, more could be done to limit the amount of personal data companies are allowed to collect. Increasingly, privacy safeguards impose “data minimization” requirements to ensure that only the data that is actually needed is collected. On the other hand, Congress should not create a new national identifier to replace the Social Security Numbers. That would make the system of identification even more brittle. Better is to reduce dependence on systems of identification and to create contextual identification where necessary.

Finally, Congress needs to give the Federal Trade Commission the authority to set minimum security standards for data brokers and to give consumers more control over their personal information. This is essential as long as consumers are these companies’ products and not their customers.

8. Resist complaints from the industry that this is “too hard.”

The credit bureaus and data brokers, and their lobbyists and trade-association representatives, will claim that many of these measures are too hard. They’re not telling you the truth.

Take one example: credit freezes. This is an effective security measure that protects consumers, but the process of getting one and of temporarily unfreezing credit is made deliberately onerous by the credit bureaus. Why isn’t there a smartphone app that alerts me when someone wants to access my credit rating, and lets me freeze and unfreeze my credit at the touch of the screen? Too hard? Today, you can have an app on your phone that does something similar if you try to log into a computer network, or if someone tries to use your credit card at a physical location different from where you are.

Moreover, any credit bureau or data broker operating in Europe is already obligated to follow the more rigorous EU privacy laws. The EU General Data Protection Regulation will come into force, requiring even more security and privacy controls for companies collecting storing the personal data of EU citizens. Those companies have already demonstrated that they can comply with those more stringent regulations.

Credit bureaus, and data brokers in general, are deliberately not implementing these 21st-century security solutions, because they want their services to be as easy and useful as possible for their actual customers: those who are buying your information. Similarly, companies that use this personal information to open accounts are not implementing more stringent security because they want their services to be as easy-to-use and convenient as possible.

9. This has foreign trade implications.

The Canadian Broadcast Corporation reported that 100,000 Canadians had their data stolen in the Equifax breach. The British Broadcasting Corporation originally reported that 400,000 UK consumers were affected; Equifax has since revised that to 15.2 million.

Many American Internet companies have significant numbers of European users and customers, and rely on negotiated safe harbor agreements to legally collect and store personal data of EU citizens.

The European Union is in the middle of a massive regulatory shift in its privacy laws, and those agreements are coming under renewed scrutiny. Breaches such as Equifax give these European regulators a powerful argument that US privacy regulations are inadequate to protect their citizens’ data, and that they should require that data to remain in Europe. This could significantly harm American Internet companies.

10. This has national security implications.

Although it is still unknown who compromised the Equifax database, it could easily have been a foreign adversary that routinely attacks the servers of US companies and US federal agencies with the goal of exploiting security vulnerabilities and obtaining personal data.

When the Fair Credit Reporting Act was passed in 1970, the concern was that the credit bureaus might misuse our data. That is still a concern, but the world has changed since then. Credit bureaus and data brokers have far more intimate data about all of us. And it is valuable not only to companies wanting to advertise to us, but foreign governments as well. In 2015, the Chinese breached the database of the Office of Personal Management and stole the detailed security clearance information of 21 million Americans. North Korea routinely engages in cybercrime as way to fund its other activities. In a world where foreign governments use cyber capabilities to attack US assets, requiring data brokers to limit collection of personal data, securely store the data they collect, and delete data about consumers when it is no longer needed is a matter of national security.

11. We need to do something about it.

Yes, this breach is a huge black eye and a temporary stock dip for Equifax — ­this month. Soon, another company will have suffered a massive data breach and few will remember Equifax’s problem. Does anyone remember last year when Yahoo admitted that it exposed personal information of a billion users in 2013 and another half billion in 2014?

Unless Congress acts to protect consumer information in the digital age, these breaches will continue.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I will be pleased to answer your questions.

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Deloitte Hacked

The large accountancy firm Deloitte was hacked, losing client e-mails and files. The hackers had access inside the company’s networks for months. Deloitte is doing its best to downplay the severity of this hack, but Bran Krebs reports that the hack “involves the compromise of all administrator accounts at the company as well as Deloitte’s entire internal email system.”

So far, the hackers haven’t published all the data they stole.

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On the Equifax Data Breach

Last Thursday, Equifax reported a data breach that affects 143 million US customers, about 44% of the population. It’s an extremely serious breach; hackers got access to full names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers — exactly the sort of information criminals can use to impersonate victims to banks, credit card companies, insurance companies, and other businesses vulnerable to fraud.

Many sites posted guides to protecting yourself now that it’s happened. But if you want to prevent this kind of thing from happening again, your only solution is government regulation (as unlikely as that may be at the moment).

The market can’t fix this. Markets work because buyers choose between sellers, and sellers compete for buyers. In case you didn’t notice, you’re not Equifax’s customer. You’re its product.

This happened because your personal information is valuable, and Equifax is in the business of selling it. The company is much more than a credit reporting agency. It’s a data broker. It collects information about all of us, analyzes it all, and then sells those insights.

Its customers are people and organizations who want to buy information: banks looking to lend you money, landlords deciding whether to rent you an apartment, employers deciding whether to hire you, companies trying to figure out whether you’d be a profitable customer — everyone who wants to sell you something, even governments.

It’s not just Equifax. It might be one of the biggest, but there are 2,500 to 4,000 other data brokers that are collecting, storing, and selling information about you — almost all of them companies you’ve never heard of and have no business relationship with.

Surveillance capitalism fuels the Internet, and sometimes it seems that everyone is spying on you. You’re secretly tracked on pretty much every commercial website you visit. Facebook is the largest surveillance organization mankind has created; collecting data on you is its business model. I don’t have a Facebook account, but Facebook still keeps a surprisingly complete dossier on me and my associations — just in case I ever decide to join.

I also don’t have a Gmail account, because I don’t want Google storing my e-mail. But my guess is that it has about half of my e-mail anyway, because so many people I correspond with have accounts. I can’t even avoid it by choosing not to write to gmail.com addresses, because I have no way of knowing if newperson@company.com is hosted at Gmail.

And again, many companies that track us do so in secret, without our knowledge and consent. And most of the time we can’t opt out. Sometimes it’s a company like Equifax that doesn’t answer to us in any way. Sometimes it’s a company like Facebook, which is effectively a monopoly because of its sheer size. And sometimes it’s our cell phone provider. All of them have decided to track us and not compete by offering consumers privacy. Sure, you can tell people not to have an e-mail account or cell phone, but that’s not a realistic option for most people living in 21st-century America.

The companies that collect and sell our data don’t need to keep it secure in order to maintain their market share. They don’t have to answer to us, their products. They know it’s more profitable to save money on security and weather the occasional bout of bad press after a data loss. Yes, we are the ones who suffer when criminals get our data, or when our private information is exposed to the public, but ultimately why should Equifax care?

Yes, it’s a huge black eye for the company — this week. Soon, another company will have suffered a massive data breach and few will remember Equifax’s problem. Does anyone remember last year when Yahoo admitted that it exposed personal information of a billion users in 2013 and another half billion in 2014?

This market failure isn’t unique to data security. There is little improvement in safety and security in any industry until government steps in. Think of food, pharmaceuticals, cars, airplanes, restaurants, workplace conditions, and flame-retardant pajamas.

Market failures like this can only be solved through government intervention. By regulating the security practices of companies that store our data, and fining companies that fail to comply, governments can raise the cost of insecurity high enough that security becomes a cheaper alternative. They can do the same thing by giving individuals affected by these breaches the ability to sue successfully, citing the exposure of personal data itself as a harm.

By all means, take the recommended steps to protect yourself from identity theft in the wake of Equifax’s data breach, but recognize that these steps are only effective on the margins, and that most data security is out of your hands. Perhaps the Federal Trade Commission will get involved, but without evidence of “unfair and deceptive trade practices,” there’s nothing it can do. Perhaps there will be a class-action lawsuit, but because it’s hard to draw a line between any of the many data breaches you’re subjected to and a specific harm, courts are not likely to side with you.

If you don’t like how careless Equifax was with your data, don’t waste your breath complaining to Equifax. Complain to your government.

This essay previously appeared on CNN.com.

EDITED TO ADD: In the early hours of this breach, I did a radio interview where I minimized the ramifications of this. I didn’t know the full extent of the breach, and thought it was just another in an endless string of breaches. I wondered why the press was covering this one and not many of the others. I don’t remember which radio show interviewed me. I kind of hope it didn’t air.

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