Citigroup Data Breach–Moving Cash Back Under The Mattress

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The Financial Times reports that hackers have gained access to a number of Citigroup (NYSE C) credit cards numbers which belong to the bank’s customers.  “The bank said that about 1 per cent of its card customers were affected. Citi Cards has about 21m customers in North America, according to the bank’s annual report,” the paper wrote. Account numbers were exposed but the Citi says other critical information like Social Security numbers were not. It will take time to see if that is correct. The hack of the Sony (NYSE: SNE) PlayStation network grew by the week and the consumer electronics company seemed unable to keep up with the spread of the problem

It has only been a month since consumers entered an entirely new era of worry about their personal data. The Sony network has 70 million users according to some estimates. Citi puts its credit card base at 21 million. The Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) e-mail database has been hacked at least twice. The Gmail customer count must be in the tens of millions. Security experts have said that Yahoo! (NASDAQ: YHOO) and MSN (NASDAQ: MSFT) mail accounts are also at risk.

Hackers can break into almost any network. They have even penetrated the security of huge defense contractor Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) which is likely to have barriers as good as any in the world.

The federal government has begun to use resources from groups as diverse as NASA and private online security firms like Symantec. Whether these teams can stay ahead of the astonishing skills of hacker remains to be seen. It would be fair to suppose that Google would have state-of-the-art protection measures. Those do not seem to have helped it keep its e-mail network secure.

People who live any part of their lives online will be forced to make a set of decisions soon about whether they want to keep critical data about themselves on the internet. The move to put medical records, credit cards, e-mail, and personal information often posted on social networks may face its first real set of obstacles in many years. It could not have been expected that malicious engineers could change what has become an almost universal action by people to use the internet as their primary means for communication, e-commerce, and entertainment. That trend may be about to reverse violently as people move their money back under their mattresses.

Douglas A. McIntyre