By: Patrick Craven, Director of the Center for Cyber Safety and Education

Equifax, one of the world’s largest credit reporting agencies, has reported that they were hacked, and your data has been compromised. Personal information, including names, birthdates, credit card information, driver’s license numbers, and more was taken from some 143 million US residents. That is nearly half the country’s population, so there is a really good chance you and your family’s credit information is at risk. So what do you do now?

In this incident, start by going to https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/potential-impact/ and entering your last name and the LAST six numbers of your social security, and you will be able to see whether your data has been compromised. Then, click to enroll in ID protection, which Equifax is providing for you at no cost. This won’t prevent your information from being sold or used but will keep a lookout for you if someone tries to use your information to open up credit cards, take out a loan, or make suspicious purchases.

Even if you weren’t affected by this breach, your turn will come. There are steps you can take to protect your information before it does.

  • Consider putting a freeze on all your credit reporting accounts with other credit bureaus like Experian and TransUnion. There is often a small fee associated with doing this ($10) and another similar fee to unlock it later. What this does is deny access to your account by anyone but you. The catch is anytime you apply for a loan or a credit card, you will have to unlock the report for the lender to pull your credit report, so you will have to pay fees to lock and unlock it each time. But how often do you apply for a loan or new credit card? It might be worth the a few bucks to protect your reports.
  • As always, make sure you are using strong and long passwords. This would be a good time to update all your passwords, especially if your password is “PASSWORD”. Here is a tip sheet on making stronger passwords. If you have a lot of passwords, you may want to consider using a password vault. Again, this is a small price to pay for peace of mind.
  • While you are updating your passwords, go ahead and set up multi-factor authentication on all your accounts. Most online institutions now offer/require this. How this works is when anyone (including you) tries to log in to your account, you will receive a text or email with a special code that you must enter before you can proceed. This extra step helps prove that you are the one accessing the account because it is sent to your phone, not the criminal’s.
  • Be extra vigilant for emails and phone calls that seem suspicious. Now that a hacker has more information about you, they can send you emails with real personal information that will make it look like it is coming from your bank or other institutions. Never give out personal information over the phone to someone who calls you. If you get an email, don’t click on their links. Go directly to the company’s site yourself or call them.

Breaches of this magnitude affect us all. They do have a silver lining, though. They are a wake-up call that we cannot delay taking steps protect our personal information. I assure you this won’t be the last time your data is stolen, so look this breach right in the eye and learn what to do to protect yourself.

About the Author

Patrick Craven is a father of two and the director for the Center for Cyber Safety and Education (Center), a nonprofit charitable trust committed to making the cyber world a safer place for everyone. The Center works to ensure that people across the globe have a positive and safe experience online through their educational programs, scholarships, and research. Visit iamcybersafe.org for more information. If you have questions, please send them to center@isc2.org

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