It's been four months since the credit reporting agency Equifax announced that hackers had stolen the personal data of more than 145 million Americans, exposing half of all adults in the U.S. to the threat of identity theft. With research showing that young Americans have been slowest to protect themselves after the breach, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is putting the Equifax hack back on millennials' radar.
A survey taken a month after the security breach showed that a majority of Americans didn't take any steps to check whether they'd been affected or to safeguard their information going forward. The response was worst among millennials between the ages of 18 and 26. Half of that age group had no idea a massive security hack had taken place, much less had taken steps to protect themselves.
On her first-ever Instagram story posted to her official account Wednesday, Warren highlighted a new bill she introduced with Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) that would penalize credit reporting agencies like Equifax for exposing consumer data.
"If this bill had been the law before the Equifax breach," the story says in block letters, "Equifax would have paid $1.5 billion in fines."
Warren has stayed at the forefront of a movement in Congress to punish Equifax for the practices that led to the security breach as well as the months-long delay in reporting that angered many Americans. While there's bipartisan condemnation among members of Congress, a clear path forward hasn't emerged. Much of Washington spent the winter consumed by negotiations over tax reform, while potential deals on immigration and the upcoming budget are now taking center stage.
Millennials are especially vulnerable after a massive security breach like the one that roiled Equifax, in which names, birth dates, and social security numbers were stolen, along with the driver's license numbers and credit card numbers of some of the people affected.
Equifax is one of three agencies that maintains data on an individual's credit report, which is a detailed picture of a person's financial health. A person's credit score influences how good an interest rate they're able to secure on a mortgage, or a car payment, or a refinanced student loan. It can even affect your ability to rent an apartment or get a job.
Because millennials are likely to purchase their first homes or cars sooner than other age groups, they're most vulnerable to the effects of bad credit. A thief could destroy an individual's credit by opening a bank account, opening credit cards, or taking out a line of of credit in that individual's name — which could go undetected for years and could take decades to repair. Because millennials are the youngest group of adults, they have an especially short credit history, meaning that one bad mark would have an outsized effect on a person's overall credit worthiness.
The Data Breach Prevention and Compensation Act, introduced by Warren and Warner, would increase the Federal Trade Commission's level of supervision and authority over data security at credit reporting agencies like Equifax. It would also spell out the penalties for inadequate data security, which the senators say will force credit reporting agencies to better safeguard people's personal data and automatically offer compensation for stolen data.
While the Equifax hack dominated headlines last year for the depth and severity of its compromised information, it was far from the only data security breach in 2017. At least 14 million Verizon customers had their data stolen, and 57 million Uber users were revealed to have had their data stolen a year earlier. In May, the WannaCry ransomewear attack infected more than 300,000 computers in 150 countries.
A year earlier, Yahoo announced that hackers had stolen data associated with at least 500 million accounts; months later, the company said that a second hack had compromised up to one billion accounts. Also last year, 360 million Myspace user names and passwords were stolen, while the hacker responsible took credit for hacking LinkedIn four years prior.
With the number of security breaches worldwide on the rise, Warren and Warner say protections for American consumers can't come soon enough.