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Data breach laws can vary from state to state in terms of notification. For years some states did not even have laws in place that required companies to inform victims if their data had been compromised in a breach. Laws vary depending on not only the location of the company that was breached, but also the location of the victims.

Washington state has had data breach laws in place for years, but those laws had a somewhat limited scope. Currently in Washington, if certain pieces of data – like your Social Security number – are not impacted in a breach, the company does not have to offer protection service or notify victims of the incident.

A new bill in Washington would expand the definition for sensitive data to include things like your birthdate, health insurance number, student ID or military ID number and more. This essentially broadens the terms of what can trigger a required notification.

The need for this change grew out of the increase in data breaches and the growing numbers of residents whose identifying information was compromised in data breaches. More than 3 million residents of that state had their data accidentally or intentionally attacked in a one-year period from July 2017 to June 2018. With breach on the rise, Washington is taking action with their data breach laws.

This new bill would not only broaden the types of personal data that are covered, but also reduce the length of time that a company has to report the breach. The current notification law gave the affected businesses 45 days to notify the state’s attorney general of a data breach, and this new bill would reduce that to 30 days. The difference of those two weeks can make an enormous impact in minimizing the damage of victims.

Of course, laws such as this one can be seen as a double-edged sword. Supporters, security experts and consumer advocates understand that there are many different kinds of identity theft, and that serious harm can result even without stealing someone’s Social Security number. However, critics view it through the eyes of the organizations and businesses, and how it may hurt them in the event of a data breach. It is important to remember that businesses who collect and store consumers’ personally identifiable information have an obligation to protect it. If they fail in that regard, then they should have to offer information and support to the customers who were affected.

The Identity Theft Resource Center and Futurion have partnered and launched a tool called Breach Clarity, which takes publicly-available data breach information and breaks down both the threat and that actionable steps for consumers.

Watch Our New Free Webinar: Deciphering the Code of Data Breach Notifications


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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A security researcher discovered an unsecured online storage server—an all-too-common occurrence known as an accidental overexposure—that linked to 4.9 million lines of patient records from an addiction treatment center called Steps to Recovery. Those millions of lines of information were not all for separate patients, but rather were separate entries on almost 150,000 of the same patients, outlining their medical treatment.

When it comes to data breaches and hacking, personally identifiable information like Social Security numbers are considered the “holy grail” of theft. Credit card information or emails are still very valuable and useful—since the card numbers make purchases until the bank shuts them down, or the email address can be sold to spammers—but Social Security numbers are permanent. With the intact data set of identifying information (PII), a thief can sell the complete records or use them to open new lines of credit in someone’s name, potentially forever.

Unfortunately, a Social Security number is not the very worst PII that can be exposed to hackers. As one report has now demonstrated, leaked patient medical treatment records can have a far more harmful effect, making the victim wish that it was “just” their Social Security number that had been stolen.

There is an unfortunate stigma that still surrounds addiction and mental health, and the possibilities are nightmarish for what a hacker could have done with this information. Whether through blackmail by threatening to expose the patients’ treatment or using the information to target them with malicious content, there are no words to describe how this could have brought harm to vulnerable people who sought help for their conditions.

Fortunately, the discovery was made by a security researcher who then contacted both Steps to Recovery and the company that hosts the treatment center’s online server. While the hosting company responded to confirm that the treatment center took down the information, Steps to Recovery never responded to the researcher’s request for information concerning patient notification. It is still not known whether the center ever informed the patients about the leak.

In order to demonstrate just how serious this is, the researcher went a little further. By cross-matching patient records that were left wide open online with basic, free Google searches, he was able to find a reasonable match for a sampling of patients listed in the leak. Those results provided names, addresses, family members’ names, ages, phone numbers and email addresses, and even political affiliations. This demonstrates just how dangerous this leak truly was, and hopefully the patients have now been informed of the situation.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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Whenever consumers learn about another data breach, they might envision a team of highly-skilled tech operatives working away at fancy computers in a darkened, windowless shop. That kind of scenario might happen, but the reality is that many data breaches are pulled off by an individual working off a laptop in a coffee shop. It is also a possibility that the breach occurred completely by mistake  – like when someone forgets to password-protect a server that stores millions of records.

These kinds of accidental data breaches have made headlines in recent months. Truthfully, some are discovered by the good guys who then report them to the companies at fault. The security flaws are fixed and the notification letters get sent out if necessary, all of which happens hopefully before anyone has had a chance to discover the exposed data and use it maliciously.

Even if so-called good guys discover the problem your information was out there for the taking. It is not always a matter of your username and password, sometimes much more personal information is available. Like in the Meditab Software Inc. breach that happened in the first quarter of 2019, where entire medical histories and prescriptions were exposed.

In this chilling situation California-based medical software developer, Meditab, left a feature unprotected in one of its tools. Meditab claims to be one of the world’s leading providers of medical record-keeping software, and it also provides fax capabilities through its partner company, MedPharm. The company was storing patient records on an unprotected server, which meant that any time MedPharm handled the faxing of a patient’s medical records, anyone with internet access could have seen it if they knew where to look.

Fortunately, those good guys discovered this one. A Dubai-based cybersecurity firm named SpiderSilk found that Meditab’s unsecured database included names, addresses, some Social Security numbers, medical histories, doctors’ notes, prescriptions, health insurance data and more. Patients affected ranged in age from early childhood to mature adults.

This kind of violation is a very serious matter under the laws surrounding HIPAA privacy, and the US government has a solid record of going after entities that store information and do not protect it adequately. If the breach was accidental and even if there is no proof that anyone used the information for harm, there are still very heavy fines and penalties for failing to store it securely.

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of actionable steps that individual patients can take in cases like this one. You can, however, ask the hard questions before the event occurs: how will my information be stored, who can access it, what company hosts your electronic database, what are you prepared to do if there is a data breach? Also, remember that there is often no need to share your most sensitive information when filling out basic medical forms; feel free to ask the person requesting it why it is needed.

Medical identity theft is a serious matter, and of all the types of identity-related crimes, this one can potentially have physical consequences for the patient if a thief uses their medical history. It is important to safeguard your medical records as much as possible, and to make your healthcare provider aware if there are any past medical identity theft issues with your personally identifiable information that could impact your care.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

As if a devastating natural disaster was not disruptive enough to people’s safety, homes, and finances, a new threat has emerged – one that was caused by the very people tasked with supporting the victims of natural disasters and other emergencies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) shared documents with a third-party contractor that contained highly sensitive information, some of which was a direct violation of current regulations for FEMA to share.

The current industry term for this kind of data breach event is an accidental overexposure, meaning no harmful intent was behind it and there is no indication of damage from the information falling into the wrong hands. Still, the FEMA data breach gave the potential for someone who was not unauthorized to access the information and use it for identity theft and fraud.

In this case, an internal audit found that FEMA’s documents included things like the victims’ names, addresses, and the names of their financial institutions. Some information also included victims’ electronic transfer numbers for moving funds and their bank transit numbers. Sharing this information seems to have been an oversight on FEMA’s part, and a statement about the incident said that FEMA is taking aggressive action to correct the error.

The name of the contractor in this incident has been redacted, but it is a company with direct ties to victim services. The company helps disaster victims find hotel accommodations that are covered under FEMA funding and therefore did need certain pieces of personally identifiable information on the victims it is helping. Impacted victims from the FEMA data breach include those from Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria, as well as the California wildfires in 2017.

Any time consumers’ personally identifiable information is exposed, compromised or attacked, the likelihood of identity theft-related crimes can go up. The Identity Theft Resource Center has partnered with Futurion to create Breach Clarity, an interactive tool that assigns a risk score to different data breach events. It also outlines in easy-to-understand terms the actionable steps that experts recommend for every breach, from something as simple as changing your password to more involved security measures like a credit freeze.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

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Year after year, cybercrimes like scams, fraud, identity theft and data breaches make a global impact on consumers and businesses alike. Organizations like the Federal Trade Commission and the Identity Theft Resource Center keep tabs on the statistics and the aftermath of these events in order to form a clearer picture of their effects. With only days to go until we reach the end of 2018, here’s a look at some of the numbers from this year.

Top Scams of the Year

According to a report by Heimdal Security, phishing attempts continue to be one of the more prevalent ways scammers connect with their victims. Phishing usually arrives as an email that entices someone to take action; the action might be to send money, hand over sensitive data, redirect to a harmful website, or even download a virus from a macro contained within the email. No matter what the story the scammers use, one-third of all security incidents last year began with a phishing email.

What happens to consumers when they fall for a phishing email? One in five people reported losing money, around $328 million altogether. That’s about $500 per victim on average, but that’s also only from the victims who reported the scam. Interestingly, new data this year found that Millennials were more likely to fall for a scam than senior citizens, although seniors still lost more money on average than these younger victims.

Different Industries Impacted by Data Breaches

The ITRC’s annual Data Breach Report highlights the organizations that have been impacted by data breaches throughout the year, along with the number of consumer records that were compromised. While the year isn’t over, the data compiled through Nov. 30 is already worrisome.

There have been more than 1,100 data breaches through the end of November 2018, and more than 561 million consumer records compromised. Those breaches were categorized according to the type of industry the victim organization falls under: banking/credit/financial, business, education, government/military and medical/healthcare.

The business sector saw not only the highest number of breaches but also the highest number of compromised records with 524 breaches and 531,987,008 records. While the medical and healthcare industry had the second highest number of breaches at 334 separate events, the government/military’s 90 breaches totaled more compromised records at 18,148,442. The financial sector only had 122 data breaches this year, but those events accounted for more than 1.7 million compromised records. Finally, while education—from pre-K through higher ed—only reported 68 data breaches, there were nearly one million compromised records associated with schools and institutions.

The Crimes that Made Headlines

There were quite a few headline-grabbing security incidents this year. While Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica events were not classified as traditional data breaches, they were nonetheless an eye opener for social media users who value their privacy. The Marriott International announcement of a 383 million-guest breach of its Starwood Hotels brand has opened consumers’ eyes about the types of information that hackers can steal, in this case, 5 million unencrypted passport numbers. The breach of the government’s online payment portal at GovPayNow.com affected another 14 million users, demonstrating that even the most security-driven organizations can have vulnerabilities. Finally, separate incidents at retailers and restaurants like Hudson Bay and Jason’s Deli reminded us (and those breaches’ combined 8.4 million victims) that attacking point-of-sale systems to steal payment card information is still a very viable threat.

What Do Criminals Really Steal?

In every scam, fraud, and data breach, criminals are targeting some kind of end goal. Typically, it’s money, identifying information or both. But recent breaches this year of websites like Quora—which provides login services for numerous platforms’ comment forums—also show that sometimes login credentials can be just as useful.

After all, with the high number of tech users who still reuse their passwords on numerous online accounts, stealing a database of passwords to a fairly innocuous site could result in account access to so-called bigger fish, like email, online banking, major retail websites, and more. Furthermore, it showed that a lot of users establish accounts or link those accounts to their Facebook or Gmail logins without really following up; a lot of people who learned their information was stolen in the Quora breach may have forgotten they even had accounts in the first place. The number of victims in that breach is expected to be over 100 million.

Moving Forward into the New Year

The biggest security events of 2018 may pale in comparison to criminal activity next year. After all, there was a time when the Black Friday 2013 data breach of Target’s POS system was considered shocking. One thing that cybercriminals have taught us time and time again is that there’s money to be made from their activities, and they aren’t going to give up any time soon.

Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.


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