When your company is named in a Senate subcommittee report headline that also includes the words "neglected" and "devastating" it's rarely a good thing. Equifax finds itself in just that situation this week, though the company is not letting that keep it from announcing a partnership that has some observers concerned about consumer privacy.
The staff report issued by the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is titled How Equifax Neglected Cybersecurity and Suffered a Devastating Data Breach. And the title isn't even the most blunt statement of the report. In the conclusion of the report, the staff writes that Equifax didn't prioritize security, didn't follow its own policies for patching a critical vulnerability, and left itself open to attack due to poor cybersecurity practices, among other faults.
The report also notes that Equifax could have minimized damage had it put basic controls and policies in place, rather than allowing the personal information of millions of individuals to be compromised.
Within the report there are a couple of findings that seem at odds with one another. First, the report states that Equifax executives are firm in their belief that they did everything possible to avoid the breach — in particular, the CIO who served from 2010 to 2017 said that he doesn't believe Equifax could have done anything differently.
However, fellow credit bureaus TransUnion and Experian each used the same product that was the source of the Equifax vulnerability (Apache Struts) -- and yet they avoided a breach by responding to the vulnerability very quickly and patching it long before the Equifax attack was underway.
This report is a prelude to the announcement that Equifax and FICO are joining forces in a Data Decisions Cloud that will provide deeper, more detailed financial information on consumers to companies that subscribe to the big data product. FICO is traditionally a data analysis firm best known for the credit score that's used for everything from approving loans to setting insurance rates. Equifax reports on consumers with data that includes the FICO score, and the combination of the two is seen by some privacy advocates as the worst of all possible worlds — a company with known security issues developing (and storing the data for) products that involve more personal data than ever before.
In the announcement of the new service, the two companies said that they are, "…focused on a connected, end-to-end development and decisioning management platform that allows customers to quickly explore, develop, test and deploy powerful insights into production systems across the organization." The question may not be whether the service can deliver on this promise to customers, but whether Equifax has taken sufficient action based on its huge breach to avoid being the subject of another Senate security investigation in the future.
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