Equifax Hack Raises Questions of Safety of Other Huge Customer Databases

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Equifax Inc. (NYSE: EFX) said its customer database had been hacked and as many as 143 million accounts had been compromised. If Equifax can be hacked, what other huge customer databases are at risk? Probably almost all of them, at least those in the United States.

Equifax made a vague note in its announcement about what had happened to the records:

The company has found no evidence of unauthorized activity on Equifax’s core consumer or commercial credit reporting databases.

What databases are those, and how are they different from the records that were hacked? It appears that most of the information about Equifax customers was exposed:

The information accessed primarily includes names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers.

That means that hackers got to some of the most valuable data about customers, but not the information about people’s credit ratings?

The largest databases in the United States that have customer data are at banks and credit card companies, as well as information held by entertainment companies and social media. Banks have been hacked before. So have entertainment companies, particularly Sony’s PlayStation database in 2011. It contained information on 77 million accounts.

Additionally, it is worth noting that a number of federal agencies have been hacked, and it has become almost routine for outsiders to gain government-controlled information.

Until now, the industry that has been spared from large-scale hacking is social media. By most accounts, the safety measures of these companies are among the most impenetrable in the world. That is, of course, until hackers breach those systems. The Holy Grail of hacks is Facebook’s database, which has information on hundreds of millions of people. Close on the list of most valuable targets are LinkedIn and Twitter. A major hack could cripple social media companies, which rely on the trust of their members, as those relationships are at the core of their ability to produce revenue.

The Equifax hack means there are larger hacks coming. The firewalls Equifax erected must have been highly sophisticated, given the hacking risk to its business. That worked until hackers honed their skills. Those hackers and others continue to do so.