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Channel Watch

Equifax: A Watershed Moment in Security?

Public anger over the exposure of over 140 million consumers has been swift and harsh -- so far. Whether the backlash prompts major changes or simply dies down remains to be seen.

Massive security breaches have hit with monotonous regularity for the last decade. Consider all the major companies and organizations whose names are word-associated with data breaches: Target, Home Depot, Yahoo, MySpace, LinkedIn, eBay, U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Anthem and Heartland.

The latest brand in this rogue's gallery is Equifax Inc., one of the three major credit-reporting bureaus in the United States. The company admitted on Sept. 7 that an attack through a vulnerability in one of its Web site applications in mid-May went undiscovered until July 29, and may have resulted in the exposure of critical-identity data for up to 143 million U.S. consumers. Accessed data included names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and driver license numbers. Additionally, it included credit-card numbers for about 209,000 U.S. consumers.

This is arguably a bigger deal than all the others so far because of the central position of Equifax in modern life. As a central repository of consumer creditworthiness, the data kept by Equifax determines everything about an individual's fortunes -- eligibility for loans, credit, jobs, security clearances, apartment rentals and much more.

The case is emblematic of modern existence in another way. No customers choose to entrust their data to the care of Equifax; the company has built its business model on collecting the data independent of consumer choice.

As a result, there's little immediate recourse. Customers can't opt out of Equifax. The entire credit-check structure can't opt out, either -- Equifax is one of only three bureaus and its downfall would be disruptive. Current laws and regulations covering the bureau are somewhat limited.

Yet a powerful backlash is underway. USA Today reported that within a few days of the disclosure, there had already been 23 class action lawsuits filed. An app popped up to help consumers initiate small claims court actions in their states. Equifax stock price got pummeled. The inquiry letters from members of Congress have started arriving at corporate headquarters in Atlanta. The invitations to Congressional committee grilling sessions in Washington, D.C., are sure to follow.

Much of the attention will fade, and powerful interests will work to prevent meaningful change from occurring. It would be a shame if this security crisis is allowed to go to waste.

Speaking of security, Redmond Channel Partner magazine's parent company, 1105 Media Inc., will hold its annual Live! 360 event this Nov. 12-17 in Orlando. While the conference is incredibly broad on IT and developer content related to Microsoft infrastructure, there are a number of sessions targeted at penetration testing, Windows security and Office 365 security. Hope to see you there.

Think the Equifax hack will lead to big changes or will it get brushed off? Let me know why at sbekker@rcpmag.com.

More Columns by Scott Bekker:

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.