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Caught in a Data Breach? Don’t Ignore It

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I was recently among a group of professionals discussing the latest information to surface about the Adobe Systems data breach. The company announced in early October that hackers had accessed 2.9 million customer accounts, compromising user names, passwords and encrypted credit and debit card numbers.

The number of accounts compromised has been revised to 38 million (though news reports have said the number is more like 150 million), which was part of the conversation, but that wasn’t the part that caught my attention. The discussion surrounding the most popular Adobe passwords was only mildly surprising. (123456? Really? Sigh.) What really surprised me was the reaction of some of these professionals, who use Adobe products every day. It went something like this:

“Yeah, I got that letter about identity theft protection, but I’m not going to jump through all those hoops,” people said. “If my credit card information gets stolen, I’ll just get a new one.”

It’s more complicated than that.

What a Breach Means

While users whose information was compromised may not experience any issues, they should still be on alert. Attackers can use the information they steal to break into other accounts you have, as people often use the same user names and passwords for multiple accounts. Cybercriminals can use various pieces of information to learn more about victims, making them potential identity theft and fraud victims.

Adam Levin, Credit.com’s chairman and co-founder, says that with so much sensitive personal data being stolen by hackers or leaked in data breaches, becoming a victim of identity theft is inevitable, and undoing the damage isn’t always so easy.

“The process of figuring out the damage, clearing your name and restoring your credit is often a full time job,” he said. “And there’s no guarantee that when you believe your work is done, the problem doesn’t resurface a year or two down the road because your information was sold and resold multiple times on the black market.”

As far as the reports that up to 152 million accounts were stolen:

“This number does not accurately reflect the number of impacted Adobe ID accounts,” said Wiebke Lips, senior communications manager for Adobe. She explained in an email, “The database taken by the attackers came from a backup system that had many out-of-date records and was designated to be decommissioned.”

Lips said less than 38 million active accounts were compromised, and Adobe is still investigating the number of inactive, invalid and test accounts involved.

The company reset the passwords of active customers, then had those customers reset the temporary passwords. Those customers also received a letter offering a free one-year identity theft protection membership.

What Consumers Should Do

While enrolling in identity theft protection is an option in this case, and it could be helpful, the risk of identity theft doesn’t go away a year after a breach — your information is out there and can be accessed by future fraudsters. That underlines the importance of changing passwords after such an incident and closely reviewing bank accounts. Even if the information on Adobe is out of date, it could be relevant to other accounts associated with your email address or user name.

Even if you aren’t worried about a data breach, you should routinely check your credit reports for mistakes, credit scores for sudden drops and bank accounts for unauthorized transactions. Credit.com offers a free tool, the Credit Report Card, for consumers to keep monthly tabs on credit profiles.

While large, the breach hasn’t seemed to cause consumers issues beyond the inconvenience of changing passwords. The largest breach on record happened in 2009 when 130 million credit card numbers were stolen from Heartland Payment Systems.

“We currently have no indication that there has been unauthorized activity on any Adobe ID account involved in the incident,” Lips said.

Image: iStock

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