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The Equifax Breach – A Cyber WTF Moment

Now that some time has passed since the news broke on the Equifax breach, we’ve had some time to ascertain the facts, digest what happened and draw some conclusions.  It’s taken some time as for the first few weeks the company slowly doled out bits and pieces of information.  

For starters,  it is not even remotely acceptable for a CEO of a tech company, an information company, or any other company leveraging technology to be clueless about his organization’s cyber exposure and technology risk.  Former Equifax CEO Richard Smith’s statement before Congress about the catastrophic breach affecting 145 million Americans was dumbfounding. The company’s willingness to blame the breach on a single engineer not acting quickly enough to patch a known vulnerability can only be characterized as a total face-palm moment. In fact, the whole Equifax explanation is such a long series of face-palm moments that I now have a migraine.

Cyber 101 teaches us that security requires people, process and technology.

I won’t comment on the people side of this incident, since I don’t know them personally.  

There are clearly a series of technology failures.  How did they operate with a vulnerability scanner that they didn’t know was incapable of detecting these highly publicized critical vulnerabilities? How did they not have the technology to detect the incident between May 13th and July 30th, allowing 79 days of active exfiltration of so much data?

And how do you implement processes where the entire cyber infrastructure of Equifax and securing access to all of this incredibly sensitive information about hundreds of millions of people boil down to one person?  In what world does this seem like a reasonable standard of care??  

Why did the breach response process take so long? And why was their process so poorly understood and coordinated across the executive team that doing the right thing became effectively impossible? The company’s leadership not only showed a blatant disregard for the securing the information they were responsible for stewarding, they displayed a foundational lack of moral compass burying deep within the fine print that potential breach victims were waiving their legal rights to sue in exchange for finding out if their data was exposed and then offering free identity theft protection that actually isn’t free after a year.

You don’t have to be a genius to realize that the cyber world is a nasty place. Using technology of any kind isn’t risk-free. All organizations and their leaders have a responsibility to understand what systems they rely on, where they are exposed, and have plans for actively managing their risk.  Breaches will happen, even to good security programs and organizations that are going the extra mile to protect themselves, their customers and the information they are entrusted with stewarding.

Equifax just wasn’t one of those cases, not by a long mile.