Anthem customers, we feel your pain. The Anthem data breach revealed last week could affect up to 80 million people, and the investigation into the scope of the crime is just starting.
Any breach that exposes data from millions of customers (or even thousands really) is bad, but the Anthem breach is actually worse than retail breaches like Target because of the type of information that was compromised. The fallout and damage from a compromised credit card can be undone. You can’t easily "undo" your name, birthdate, or Social Security number. Now that attackers have your personal information, your identity could be stolen tomorrow, next week, or three years from now.
There's no way any individual Anthem customer could have protected themselves in this incident, but now that it's happened, there are some steps you can (and should) take to monitor and protect your identity, in the likelihood that attackers have your information.
1. Visit AnthemFacts
The AnthemFact.com FAQ site is the best source of current information about the data breach.
2. Take advantage of free credit monitoring
Anthem states, “All impacted members will receive notice via mail which will advise them of the protections being offered to them as well as any next steps.”
When you receive that notice, follow the instructions and take advantage of any protection or services Anthem is providing.
3. Use your free annual credit report
Federal law requires each of the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—to give you a free credit report every 12 months if you ask for it. Use that as another monitoring weapon over time.
Set a reminder on your calendar to visit AnnualCreditReport.com and request your free credit reports. Take the time to study them. Even if you don’t find evidence of fraudulent activity, you might find incorrect or outdated information that is adversely impacting your credit score.
4. Monitor your children
Kevin Duggan, CEO of Camouflage Software, says, “Anthem should be of interest because of who will likely bear the brunt of the damage: young children and the elderly."
Children in particular don't actively use credit or apply for loans, so they're less likely to discover fraudulent activity. Duggan points out, "a five-year-old child today will not likely realize their credit has been destroyed by fraudulent activity until it comes time for them to use it to apply for student loans in about 13 years."
This Experian site contains a lot of helpful explanations and information about how to manage and protect a minor’s credit history. The challenge is that there is nothing to monitor until or unless the child has a credit history, and according to Experian there are reasons that you would not want to preemptively establish and freeze a credit history in your child’s name.
In any case, you have everything to gain by checking regularly to make sure no credit history has been created using your child’s Social Security number.
5. Be alert as you file your income taxes
Armed with personal information like your name, address, and Social Security number, attackers could file a fraudulent income tax return in your name. The IRS and state tax authorities aren’t really equipped to determine whether the person filing is legitimate. The variety of methods for receiving and cashing a tax refund make it possible for someone to file in your name and have the money spent before the fraud is discovered. At that point, you'll have to jump through some hoops to prove the initial return was fraudulent so you can file a valid tax return.
Anthem won’t be the last
You don't have to be an Anthem customer to take lessons from this incident. Your own insurer could be the next victim. “A sad fact is that the healthcare industry by and large has never been seen as a leading edge security consumer because the historical threat has been more focused on financial services,” said Mark Kraynak, Chief Product Officer for Imperva. “This is a broad generalization but healthcare targets are probably a little bit softer targets than financial targets.”
Jeremiah Grossman, CEO of WhiteHat Security, cautions that there’s a good chance other health insurance organizations are already compromised and just don’t know it yet. “As these things happen, it would not be surprising if other healthcare institutions reveal that they’ve been compromised. Often enough, cyber-criminals work in coordinated teams and target market segments, and not just a single entity.”
Staying vigilant to identity theft around a data breach is a bit like trying to prevent a house fire by spraying it with a squirt gun after it’s already burning, but if you follow these steps you can at least minimize the potential damage.