More than any other thing, what surprises me about the Sony hack is how unprepared anyone seemed to be for something like this to happen. To me, it seems like it was almost inevitable, yet Sony has taken down its network for days and does not seem to have any remedy for the problems that happened in the first place. Meanwhile, users whose information has been compromised seem to be as paralyzed as Sony itself.
Beneath all of this lies a simple fact: individual user data has value to criminals and, because of that value, is going to be pursued with diligence by criminals capable of exploiting it. Companies offering online services, especially ones that involve financial or private, personally identifiable information, must commit themselves to making the protection of that information their highest priority, even ahead of profit. Unless companies make security their priority, they won’t have to worry about profit.
Consumers, on the other hand, cannot simply sit back and expect companies to protect their information. Every individual who has that kind of information online must assume that it is going to be stolen and must do due diligence in protecting themselves from theft. If the consumers do not, then the damage done by such theft is as much their responsibility as it is the companies whose systems are compromised.
Finally, consumers, companies, credit providers, and banks alike must all work toward establishing more sophisticated ways of securing individual data. Simple firewall and encryption methods no longer suffice and need to be replaced with methods that more closely tie online data to its owners.
For the time being, there are simple steps anyone can take to ensure they are protecting themselves:
- Only use credit cards or proxy money services (like PayPal) online. Never, ever use your debit card (I know this from firsthand experience), and monitor your bank accounts regularly for unfamiliar transactions.
- Monitor credit card accounts for unfamiliar transactions and dispute such transactions through the credit card’s fraud protection service as soon as they appear.
- Monitor your credit using the free credit report service authorized required under federal law. Be familiar with your outstanding credit and be vigilant for new credit lines you did not open.
- If you know your identity has been compromised, consider using a credit monitoring service and consider freezing your credit.