Just when consumers were starting to regain some company trust and safe-shopping stability after last year’s massive Target breach, a string of new large-scale company breaches quickly reminded us consumers just how insecure our personal data can be. Needless to say, it’s been a rough year for some major companies and an even rougher year for thousands of unlucky customers. Let’s look at three of the major breaches of the last couple of months.
Early last month, reports started coming in that the home improvement giant was investigating “some unusual activity with regards to its customer data.” Security reporter Brian Krebs immediately called credit card breach, especially since multiple banks came out to say that they were seeing evidence that Home Depot was the likely source of a batch of stolen credit and debit cards that went on sale in the cyber crime black market that morning. Sure enough, six days later, the company admitted that its payment systems were in fact breached and that the hack was going on for months. They went on to say that while credit card data was exposed, personal pins were not. Reassurance (not really). And while the exact number of affected cards wasn’t known at that time, one thing was for certain: If you used a credit card at one of Home Depot’s U.S or Canadian stores in the past 4-5 months, you needed to consider your credit card stolen and get on the phone with your bank ASAP.
About two weeks later (September 18th), Home Depot announced the number. A whopping 56 million cards were impacted, making the incident the biggest retail card breach…ever (on record, at least). The ‘silver lining’? Home Depot also said that the malware was now contained.
Before the month of September passed (and with Home Depot still fresh on everyone’s minds), another large company from a completely different industry had some bad news to share with its customers…
On September 30th, Japan Airlines (JAL) confirmed that as many as 750,000 JAL Mileage Bank (JMB) frequent flyer club members’ personal info was at risk thanks to a breach. Apparently, hackers were able to get into JAL’s ‘Customer Information Management System’ by installing malware onto computers that had access to the system. The data that was accessed? Everything from names to home addresses to birth dates to JMB member numbers and enrollment dates. The good news is that credit card numbers and passwords did not appear to be exposed. There have not been any new developments about this breach, since the official statement by JAL on September 29th.
October 2014 was only two days young when yet another major company confirmed a data breach. This time, the victim was JP Morgan. Or rather, JP Morgan customers who used Chase.com and J.P. Morgan Online websites, as well as the Chase and JP Morgan mobile apps.
Last Thursday, the nation’s largest bank revealed that a mid-August cyber attack exposed personal info for 76 million households, as well as 7 million small businesses. More specifically, names, email addresses, phone numbers and addresses were stolen, while JP Morgan went on to say that there was no evidence that account numbers, passwords, Social Security numbers or birth dates were exposed. While the bank found out about the breach of it’s servers in August, it has since been determined that it began as early as June. Unfortunately, not much else is certain at this time. What we do know is that Russian hackers are suspected (still not confirmed), over 90 of JP Morgan’s servers were affected, and it is believed that nine other financial institutions were also targeted (although we don’t know their identities). The lack of concrete information is scary in it’s own right, but the fact that JP Morgan is staying mum on the matter is even more troubling. According to a Huffington Post report from earlier today, the bank is refusing to say how many people were actually hit by the breach, with spokeswoman Trish Wexler saying that JP Morgan isn’t offering more details beyond what was announced last Thursday. This could mean that the breach, already the largest (against a bank) in history, could potentially be even larger than the reported 76 million households and 7 million small businesses, keeping in mind that ‘households’ is not the same thing as ‘individuals’.
Additionally, Fox Business is reporting that the bank is now bracing for a massive-scale spear-phishing campaign in the wake of the breach. according to their sources. Considering that no bank info was compromised in the original breach (JP Morgan said in a statement that they haven’t “seen unusual fraud activity related to the incident”), this is a plausible next-step. Using the personal info obtained in the ‘first wave’, the attackers can send out legitimate-looking emails to the affected customers that say there is a problem with the user’s account and ask for Social Security numbers, passwords, etc. Alternatively, the emails could ask the customer to click an embedded link to update their account info, but in reality, the customer is taken to a official-looking fake site from which the attackers can nab the important financial information. In either case, the virtual trap is activated at that point.
What to do?
It’s no secret that data breaches are on a steep rise. According to a the Identity Theft Research center, there have been 579 data breaches this year, 27.5% more than there were at this time last year. And that number is only going to continue to increase.
In any of these three breaches, it’s important for customers to take basic safeguarding steps to ensure their information is secure, whether that means calling your bank and getting a new credit card issued (in the case of Home Depot), changing your password if you’re a JAL frequent flyer and JMB club member, or changing your log-in information and monitoring your online accounts if you bank with JP Morgan or Chase.
As more and more people choose to bank online (and become more internet-dependent in general), it’s also no secret that employing powerful and always up-to-date internet security on your devices is more crucial than ever before. Company breaches and spear-phishing attacks aren’t going anywhere. Take the necessary steps to keep your personal info protected!
October 6th, 2014 by Yegor Piatnitski