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Learning Lessons From Large Scale Breaches

Data breach lessons

At this point, there’s no ignoring it: our financial security is compromised daily. And no doubt, many reading this wouldn’t hesitate to recount all the breaches they have been a part of as consumers; merchant breaches in which replacement cards forced you to update your linked accounts, or data compromises where personal information was stolen and identity theft protection was provided, forcing you to consider freezing new credit originations.

These are only the breaches we know about — considering the residual risk of all the data breaches we’ve been exposed to, the totality of it all becomes immense. Back at the start of 2014, I suggested that we’re experiencing data breach fatigue; today it’s closer to data breach exhaustion, and consumers may now feel powerless.

We must ask ourselves as consumers, what exactly is being compromised? What information has fallen into the pocket of an attacker and how could they use it to attack me? As we are compromised once, twice, or multiple times, are we falling under greater risk? How vulnerable are we when it is revealed that personal details landed in the hands of hackers and fraudsters?

Typically, most concerning for consumers is demographic data that can be uses in authentication, illegitimate identity-theft account opening, or the use of a payment card for unauthorized spending (or potentially for account takeover) if an attacker has the relevant non-public personal information. There is a risk here to be sure, even if we, as service providers, don’t realize the impact of it. So what lessons are out there?

Zombie authenticators and static data elements are a gift to hackers

Well, for starters; why are we still using knowledge-based authentication based on third-party-issued static data elements to authenticate? Government (in the U.S. Social Security) identity numbers, home addresses and the user’s date of birth are zombie authenticators – even worse than passwords! They have been compromised so many times, or are sometimes available through public or searchable sources… still in 2017.

Fraudsters have databases to store these elements as well, and anyone who has an account on a dark website can search an underground database to see if a birthday, SSN (social security number) or home address exists for the intended target. In fact, there is already a neologism for this: “Credential Stuffing” – the act of intercepting and using as many authentication elements (e.g. account login or recovery credentials) that have been compromised to attempt to take over an account.

Biometrics and other authentication measures should be embraced

When being asked to authenticate myself, I cringe when I see these types of questions. I’d much prefer to do business with an entity that has a more rigid authentication process and does something far more clever and sophisticated to validate that I am, in fact, me. We now have biometrics if the customer can use them remotely, on a mobile app. We have dynamic account-based questions (only known internally to the service provider and customer), and we have multifactor out-of-band authentication… these can be embraced to perform a far greater authentication experience and reduce the potential for account takeover. Would I feel more secure in a world of high-frequency data breaches when I know my financial institution authenticated me with two factors? Could this actually be faster than the present authentication practices of asking multiple questions, throughout a contact center session? Of course!

I know no one wants to get a letter from their financial institution, or look themselves up on a newly-created security webpage to determine they are exposed after a large breach is revealed, but this is a reality. To sit idly by and continue to authenticate with the most static data elements that are most consistently compromised is a lesson of any breach du jour.