State Farm Insurance has filed a notice of data breach that involved customer accounts, seemingly to meet California regulations. The letter is concise in its description of what went on, yet transparent. State Farm said in the letter (describing what information was involved): "During the attempted access, the bad actors received confirmation of a valid user name and password for your account. No sensitive personal information was viewable. After a review of your online account, we have also confirmed that no fraudulent activity occurred."
That says to the account holder exactly what needs to be said about what went on. It has no buzzwordiness to it, which would make things far more opaque. It tells you the downside, but outlines all the main points of the entire situation.
They go on to tell the account holder how they are responding by saying, "What We Are Doing: To defend against the attack, we reset your password in an effort to prevent additional attempts by the bad actor." Simple, correct and illustrative.
They also tell the account holder to mend their evil ways, lest bad actors take advantage of their habits. They note in the letter: "If you use the same password for other online accounts, reset those, too. While it is often easier to return to a previous password that is easy to remember, a bad actor may have already obtained your user ID and password and may use it to access your online accounts with State Farm or other companies. By creating a new and unique password for each online account, you can reduce that risk." Bravo. Sensible, and true. Password reuse is endemic, and a vulnerability.
Adam Laub, chief marketing officer at STEALTHbits Technologies, commented on the recommendations that State Farm made in the letter.
He told Security Now, "As already implied, unique username and password combinations are indeed the number one way to mitigate the effectiveness of credential stuffing attacks. However, the burden of creating and maintaining these unique combinations falls on the shoulders of the proverbial "weakest link" (i.e., the end user). It may be time for organizations to take matters into their own hands though. If end users can't or won't comply with the guidance being provided to keep their accounts safe, perhaps proactive analysis of user account passwords and forced remediation when they're determined to be vulnerable to password guessing attacks may be the only way to address this particular attack vector. The fear for businesses is obviously end user pushback, but with stiffening regulations and fines, the cost of end user frustration would appear to be minimal in comparison with non-compliance."
— Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek.