In February, Indianapolis-based health insurer Anthem suffered one of the largest data breaches in history, with as many as 80 million current and former members affected. Hackers made off with subscribers’ names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security numbers and employment histories — everything an identity thief needs. The Anthem breach was the largest to be reported by a healthcare company.
Considering the information was stolen from the second-largest U.S. provider of health insurance one would consider that it took high-level hackers to breach the system. Unfortunately, Anthem had avoided taking the simplest step in data protection: encryption. None of the member information stored on Anthem’s servers had been scrambled, making it exceptionally easy for hackers to read and use. The choice not to encrypt the data was knowingly made, the Wall Street Journal reported, quoting an inside source who stated, “Scrambling the data, which included addresses and phone numbers, could have made it less valuable to hackers or harder to access in bulk. It also would have made it harder for Anthem employees to track health care trends or share data with states and health providers.”
What options are there for companies that need to track data and trends, but still want to do everything in their power to protect customers from identity theft? One answer is detecting hackers in the system before they are able to steal information, and yet Bitglass reports that it takes 205 days, on average, before a breach is recognized. It seems that cyber thieves are consistently one step ahead of IT officials, whether they operate by taking advantage of weaknesses within company systems or using malware to do their dirty work.
Experts suggest that hackers are able to stay undetected for so long due to the increase in volume of attacks targeting companies. Security company FireEye CTO Greg Day told V3 that typical businesses get about 10,000 hack alerts per month. About 50 percent of these are false positives. The other 40 percent are analyzed to find patterns that link multiple alerts and suggest a serious attack. However, most companies are currently manually analyzing these alerts, making it incredibly difficult to connect the dots between a large number of alerts to accurately detect attacks.
This means that it is essential for individuals to take steps to ensure they are doing as much as possible to protect their own information. Here are some steps to take:
- Change your passwords for online financial institutions and health insurance accounts regularly. Make sure to use complex and unique phrases.
- Use a credit monitoring service, which can alert you to certain activity that may indicate your information has been stolen.
- Ask companies what they do to protect your information and avoid disclosing personal information when it is not absolutely necessary.
Protect your identity by staying vigilant and doing what you can to keep your information secure.