Saturday, February 7, 2015



The recent coverage by the news media of the hacking incident at Anthem has left a lot of people confused and fearful after it was reported that the financial information of 80 million customers has been compromised. All of this was done over the Internet by some unknown person or persons. Coming at a time when North Korea made additional threats against the U.S., there were some who wondered if they were responsible. Others pointed a finger at China. Actually, you don’t need a government to hack a database like most companies have, even the big ones. Most of them have our information protected with little more than a user name and a password, much in the same manner as you do on your home computer. Programs that scan and prevent intrusions are not much more effective than the virus protection and firewall on your home computer. The easiest method of intrusion is simpler than you might imagine. Hackers can sometimes trick an employee to let them into the system by posing as a supervisor or an employee of another company that has a ‘right’ to access the information.
Over the last decade or two, companies have made an effort to collect personal information from every individual that is a customer, or might be a customer at some time in the future. Basically, the information they collect consist of your name, birth date, email address, physical address, your age, employment, credit history, salary, and sometimes your heath history. Why do they want this and who is responsible for such an intense effort to compromise your privacy. Customer and company security is the answer you will probably get if you ask, but the real answer is the fact that private information is a gold mine to those who have it. What is the source of the information? Part of it comes from you because banks, credit card companies, and health care providers demand it. The other information comes from computers who search out bits and pieces of information and put it into a file. Some of this information is passed along to companies that have some connection with the people you do business with. Surprising, despite the ‘policy’ stated in their disclaimer, banks are as guilty of passing private information along as anyone else. Some of it winds up in the hands of telemarketers.
So what can you do besides wring your hands? You can subscribe to a credit protection agency that will monitor activity on the Internet that might impact you personally. There is a fee involved that can be as low at ten dollars per month. For this amount they will monitor you bank accounts, your driver’s license, your credit cards, and report any use of your personal information that might cause a threat. If you want full monitoring that includes your credit union and your 401 plan it will cost you as much as forty dollars per month. After the protection agency reports any threat they find, it is up to you to take action. You would think that the people who caused the problem in the first place would be financially liable for any damage. That, however, is not the way it works in the market place.
The hack at Anthem, as far as I know, is the largest incident to date, but some who have suffered something similar have had to pay for the loss and then sue for the return of their funds. Some companies will tell you that they will assume any loss you incur, but you need to find out what this means. Some customers have paid tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and spent years getting their identity back and their credit repaired. Check each bill or report from all companies where you do business. If you find a discrepancy, report it immediately. Remember that this is not something that will blow away in a few weeks or even in years. It will be with us forever and will require vigilance on your part. Companies should have provided a system that guarded our information before they collected so much of it and passed it around so freely. A complaint to our government officials might accomplish something, but don’t hold your breath. Some of them have their hands thrust deeply into the pockets of the companies that are exploiting you.   

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