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The recent, massive Equifax data breach , which place 143 million US customers’ private data at risk –such as names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and a few drivers license and credit card numbers–drove home the dangers confronting any company that stores a valuable trove of information. But awareness alone has not stopped or even slowed the current slate of mega-breaches, which have affected strongly defended networks, such as those of the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency . That doesn’t mean it is time to give up. Even in the event that you can not stop breaches altogether, plenty of measures could slow them down.

Before Equifax,a number of other memorable data breaches lost tens of millions of records–such as at Target, Home Depot, the Office of Personnel Management , and Anthem Medicare. While each attack occurred in various ways, extra precautions might have helped mitigate the consequences.

“Breaches occur over and over again because of really easy things, it is bothersome” states Alex Hamerstone, a penetration tester and compliance specialist in the IT security firm TrustedSec. “Nothing works 100 percent or even near it, but a good deal of things work to some level and when you begin to layer them on top of one another and begin doing basic things you are likely to get stronger safety.”

Organizations can begin by segmenting their networks, to limit the fallout if a hacker does break through. Siloing attackers in 1 portion of the network means that they can not obtain access beyond it. The examples of the CIA and NSA leaks–equally embarrassing and harmful episodes for those organizations–reveal that it is possible to restrict access control such that attackers who catch something can not get everything.

Legislation and regulation can also help create more clearly defined repercussions for customer data loss that inspire organizations to prioritize data protection. The Federal Trade Commission declined to comment to WIRED about the Equifax breach, but noticed that it supplies resources as part of its consumer protection outreach and enforcement efforts.

Lawsuits may also help deter to lax security practices. So far over 30 suits are filed against Equifax, including at least 25 in federal court. And companies do suffer declines in the wake of a violation, both in terms of money and reputation, that spur some adoption of stronger protections. However, all these elements combined still only lead to gradual progress in the usa, as exemplified by the situation with Social Security numbers, which have been proven to be insecure as a universal identification for decades, but are still widely used.

Beyond what individual organizations can achieve by themselves, increasing data protection overall will require technological overhauls of community systems and consumer identification/authentication. Nations such as Estonia and the Netherlands have made such systems a priority, instituting multi-factor authentication for fiscal interactions, like opening a credit card accounts. They also make these mechanisms more easily available to vulnerable industries like health care. Organizations can also concentrate on implementing robust data encryption, so even if attackers access information that they can not do anything with it. However, for those technologies to proliferate, businesses must devote to reworking infrastructure to accommodate them{}as was finally true for chip-and-pin credit cards , which the US took decades to embrace. And then there is just good old fashioned dedication to ensuring the systems in place real work as they’re supposed to.

“There is not any security without audit,” says Shiu-Kai Chin, a computer security researcher at Syracuse University who studies growth of trustworthy systems. “People who run companies do not need to consider the expense of information audits, but if they just imagined that each and every packet of information was a hundred dollar bill, all of a sudden they’d begin to consider who touches that cash and if they be touching that money? They would want to set up the system correctly–so you give people enough access to do their jobs and no longer.”

As a data-processing firm, Equifax certainly had some information security protections in place. Experts note, however, the system architecture clearly had any substantial flaws if an attacker might have possibly compromised records for 143 million people without accessing the corporation’s core databases–something Equifax claims. Something about the segmentation and user controls in the system let too much access. “In information security it is easy to Monday morning quarterback and say ‘you should have patched, you must have done this’ if it is really a lot more difficult to do,” TrustedSec’s Hamerstone states. “But Equifax has cash, it was not like they were on a shoestring budget. It was a choice not to spend here, and that is what type of blows me away.”

A mutual industry phrase is “there is no such thing as perfect security{}” It means that data breaches do occur occasionally no matter what, and always will. The challenge in the usa is to creating the correct incentives and requirements that induce technological overhauls. With the ideal setup, a breach does not need to be devastating, but with no the consequences are dramatic. “If we can not account for the integrity of operations,” says Chin, “then all is lost.”


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