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These hacker attacks make Y2K look trivial

Does anyone remember Y2K?  It happened just 15 years ago. The $100 billion in the US -- $350 billion worldwide -- that was spent to convert information systems to move from a 2-digit year to a 4-digit year, well, it seems so last century. The belief at that time: The move from the YYMM format of dates in all systems everywhere (all military, government, and commercial) in the year 2000 would create a "0001" January 1, 2000 date format that would result in disaster. Checks couldn’t be issued, military systems would fail, hospitals and power plants would shut down or off. This was preceded by sky-is-falling anxiety, particularly among IT people who bore the brunt of redirecting work to code this change.

We have an equivalent crisis today with documented start dates -- but no plan. In the Anthem Blue Cross hack, 80 million Americans had their social security numbers, addresses and related identifying data stolen in December, including many elderly (not mentioned anywhere) as well as numerous non-Anthem customers. Anthem purported to discover this in February, but bogus tax returns were filed by thieves on December 31, 2014 and other hacks were earlier. Then came the IRS Get Transcript hack – which revealed another 100,000 stolen records, and possibly $50 million in bogus tax refunds. Far too late, the online "Get Transcript" IRS system was shut down. This past week, the Federal government Office of Personal and Management revealed that as many as 4 million current and retired federal employees may have had personal background check data stolen (including their Social Security numbers). And more of these have likely happened -- yet to be admitted and widely publicized.

Closing the gate after the chickens have left. So far no organizations are thinking publicly or strategically about identity theft. So far, having been one of these hapless folks, it is a lot of work to cope – is everyone doing these 12 BankRate steps? Likely when these were publicized, the firm wasn’t thinking about sending more than 80 million people to call the FTC.  Maine's AARP suggests identity theft avoidance is bringing your papers to be shredded. Seriously? But never mind them -- no nation-wide campaign has been undertaken by any other organization whose mission is to protect the elderly. Of the Anthem 38.5 million customers, 1.4 million of them were on Medicare. Of the total hacked 80 million in the database, more than 3 million of them could have been seniors. Their social security numbers and other identifying information may have been used to file for phony tax refunds (expected by the IRS to grow to $21 billion by 2016) -- which preceded any filing of their own legitimate tax returns.

Changing personal identifiers of all Americans must be a national top priority project. Note this agenda item description for the July, 2015 White House Conference on Aging:  “Can technological tools help prevent financial exploitation of older Americans?” Yes, technology tools can help, but they will not be yours, mine, or those ads for the too-little-too-late credit protection mechanics.  A nationwide effort spanning all these databases should begin. Perhaps Anthem, which believes its "reputation is intact," should take the high road and start the project. Real money needs to be spent to issue new Social Security numbers. And these will require system changes to protect the way they are managed by the Social Security Administration. Today, they cross-reference newly-issued numbers to old numbers – how convenient for hackers! All other systems that use the number would have to be updated accordingly – and with new (to be designed) systems and security processes. Would the Y2K level of $100 billion get the job done? Unlikely. But it’s a start.


Your fingerprints and your eyes is the simple answer, so the hell with new Social Security numbers, let's use our unhackable, to date, selves. If somebody had to be as ugly as me to steal my money, they wouldn't bother.


Nice short piece on NPR this week:

Standout quote: "Jay Jacobs, lead data scientist at Verizon for the breach report, is a foremost expert who has been slicing and dicing this data for years. He estimates 60 percent to 80 percent of Social Security numbers have been stolen by hackers. NPR put the question to him multiple times and he stuck by this estimate."

New joint effort to combat identity theft.

For some reason, reading about this effort does not inspire confidence.

Why isn't there a huge outcry .. because it is a "silent" crime no guns no drama for prime time TV? We are not living in the stone ages -- there are viable solutions. When companies have to pay with customers leaving they will find an answer and implement it.


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