Anthem, one of the nation’s largest and most reputable health insurers, has fallen victim to a monumental cyber attack. While the breach was detected toward the very end of January, the announcement that as many as 80 million customer accounts had been hacked was not made public until almost a week later. The company is facing some criticism for their delay in communicating the information to the media, however, they are being praised for what is truly important—their quick report of suspicious network activity to the FBI. In the case of a security breach such as this, immediate notification to law enforcement is vital in order to identify responsible criminals before they are given the chance to potentially destroy evidence. Thanks to their timely alert to officials, FBI spokesman John Campbell, describes Anthem as a “model” to other companies who face similar attacks.
As encouraging as this feedback is, it does not make the underlying issue less concerning. According to Alyssa Newcomb of ABC News, hackers now have the names, addresses, contact information, birth dates, social security numbers, medical IDs, and employment information of tens of millions of people across the nation, making it the largest security breach to date. The breach of social security numbers (SSNs) poses a particularly strong threat as they are essentially each citizen’s national identification, and can unlock endless private information. Young children are even more vulnerable when it comes to the issue of stolen SSNs.
As NBC News stated, “For most minors, their number is pristine – it’s never been used and is not yet associated with a credit file. That means there’s very little chance that the credit reporting agencies are monitoring it.” Because these agencies are not tracking the file, it gives criminals the opportunity to match the number with a different name and birth date, creating a fake identity and using it for a variety of fraudulent activities. It is extremely important that parents keep an eye out for red flags that may indicate the theft of either their child’s or their own social security number.
Anthem is now handling the cyber-attack in the most responsible ways that it can. The company’s chief executive, Joseph Swedish, sent letters to millions of members so he could personally apologize for the security breach, even though his and many other Anthem associates’ information had been accessed as well. The company is now offering free credit monitoring and identity theft protection to its current customers and former customers from the past eleven years.
At this point, what is most important is that every customer watches for any sign of suspicious activity within their own account and information, and continues to do so even after attention wanes. Identity thieves may keep information for years without deciding to act upon it. When they finally do, time is critical in addressing the issue. The attack on Anthem is just another reminder of the persistent threats faced by massive industries such as healthcare providers and retailers. Their security is vital in order to protect the information and identities of our nation’s citizens.