Edward McFadden – Staff Writer
CLARION, Pa- Earlier this month, Equifax, one of the four major consumer credit reporting agencies in the nation, revealed that hackers had breached the personal information, including social security and credit card numbers, of 143 million American citizens. This cyber attack follows a summer filled with stories of global Ransomware attacks. Ransomware is a type of software that hacks into files and threatens to publish personal data, all while blocking the victim’s access to it until a “ransom” is paid.
In the wake of the data breach, two top Equifax officials departed the company as it proceeded with several damage control actions including the offering of free credit reporting for a year to consumers, and launching a website where individuals can determine whether they are among the millions of Americans affected by the breach.
According to Dr. Jody Strausser of Clarion’s Computer Information Science (CIS) department, the hack is significant in terms of cyber security and how many people potentially were affected.
Strausser explained that everyone is in the system if they have taken out student loans, bought a house or a car or applied for, or taken out a credit card in their name. He reported to being among those whose information was breached in the Equifax hack, and has since frozen his credit. Credit freezing is defined as a block being placed on one’s credit report which would limit would-be lenders- or in this case hackers- from accessing information until the freeze is lifted. This is a move that Strausser recommended, if hesitantly, for students who know that they have been breached. It provides more security, but also comes with adverse effects on the ability to get new lines of credit such as loans or credit cards.
For Jon Thompson, a senior in Clarion’s CIS department, the issue of cybersecurity is not a particularly vexing one. Some of Thompson’s information, according to Equifax’s recently launched website, “may have been impacted” by the incident; a fact that invoked disappointment in the company by Thompson.
“I’m disappointed it happened, but not super shocked, knowing what I know from the computer science major. It’s something that’s easier than you would think it would be.” Thompson said. “As we become more interconnected, things like this are going to start happening more often.”
College students pose particular targets in the world of cyberattacks, being the most at-risk group of individuals for such the hacks; according to a report from NBC news. The most common cybercrimes involve identity theft, and are often not detectable immediately. According to A1, an NPR podcast, about one in five credit reports have some type of error on them. More individuals are discovering credit cards in their name that they never applied for. There are, however, steps that can be taken to stay safe in an ever-increasing digital world, Strausser says.
One of the precautions that can be taken against cyberattacks is checking monthly credit card and bank account statements. Strausser emphasized that the intuitive habit of checking statements and reporting immediately suspicious activity can do a lot for individual security.
Additionally, Strausser cautioned people never to give out personal information when contacted over phone or email, even if it appears to be from a verified source. Hackers frequently pretend to represent banks or even companies like Equifax, contacting individuals for information under the pretense that it is being used for their safety and protection; a practice known as phishing.
Sharing on social media is also a common tool for hackers to use, and Strausser suggested that some of the sensitive material that young adults post on the internet actually makes a hacker’s job easier. Sue Steffy of the PSECU Financial Education Center in Clarion echoed the sentiment. “Be extremely careful about what you post online.”