One of my mottoes regarding data breaches is that things are not as bad as you think — they are far worse and that motto is unfortunately turning out to be quite accurate in regard to the recent data breach at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) by Chinese hackers. First, we were told that 2.2 million people were affected, but that number has risen to now more than 21.5 million people affected. But as more becomes known about the data breach, it is not just the numbers of people affected that makes this data breach so serious, but the kind of data stolen that makes it even worse. Among the data stolen were 1.1 million fingerprint records, the theft of which poses a serious threat as more and more biometrics, such as fingerprints are used for security purposes on smartphones, computers and other devices. Although it sounds like science fiction, it is actually science fact that the stolen data could be used to create copies of fingerprints on latex gloves that could be used to gain access to fingerprint protected devices. The severity of the problem may be mitigated somewhat by older fingerprint records being ink images rather than the high resolution digital scans now used, but either way, the threat is real.
As I wrote in my USA Today column about the data breach at the OPM, hopefully this event will be our cyber 9/11 wakeup call to improve our national cybersecurity in government, private industry and our individual lives. Here is a link to that column: http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/2015/06/13/hacking-opm-weisman/28697915/
While all we can do as individuals is urge our elected officials and companies with which we do business to improve their data security, there is much we can do as individuals to protect our own cybersecurity on our computers, laptops, smartphones and other devices. You can find lists of many steps you can take to make your cyberlife more secure in my book “Identity Theft Alert.”