Anthem Presents Big Problems, Few Solutions

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably at least heard the name “Anthem” being tossed around in news headlines or on social media. If you haven’t, start reading about it here, here and here.

Simply put, the Anthem attack is both frightening and fascinating.

It begs the questions:

  1. Could the attack have been prevented? Many computer science experts and privacy specialists are saying no.
  2. Will it happen again? In his coverage of the situation, investigative journalist and privacy expert Bob Sullivan warns everyone, “The Anthem health data leak isn’t the Big One – that’s still coming, believe me.” He adds, “While Washington D.C. bickers over a new privacy law that enacts technological-era change at a glacial pace, hackers are running circles around our nation’s companies. Nobody I know who works in cybersecurity thinks things are going to get better.”
  3. What can victims do to protect themselves? Unfortunately, not a whole lot. Part of this has to do with the fact that there’s no telling when people’s identities will be forfeited – it could happen today, tomorrow or months or even years from now. According to Anthem, victims should take advantage of its free credit monitoring and identity protection services and immediately report suspicious activity if they see it. Spokespersons from companies such as Experian and Hotspot Shield suggest taking this a step further by also signing up for fraud alerts or even a credit freeze (until credit is needed again). None of this, as you can guess, is convenient or fun.
  4. How can this be prevented in the future? That’s the million dollar question, and the answer is anything but easy. To again quote Bob Sullivan – one of my favorite journalists – “fresh thinking is the only way through this problem.” He writes that as millions of Americans face compromised identities, “the right way to deal with [this] is simple: We need to devalue the stolen information. One modest proposal you will hear is to simply make all Social Security numbers public, thereby ending once and for all their use as a unique and ‘secret’ identifier.”

The suggestion to make social security numbers public is indeed bold and fresh. How that would work remains to be seen, but Bob and other experts hit the nail on the head: Without fresh, original thinking here – the kind that completely turns the tables on cyber criminals – America is going to be in for a very long, tough and frustrating battle against hackers, and who knows how damaging that could be.

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