In the aftermath of the Equifax data breach, consumers are understandably skittish about cybersecurity and the safety of their personal information. The massive hack has left as many as 145.5 million people at risk of identity theft, meaning Social Security numbers, names, addresses and more data could be stolen at any moment. Mine, too.
That’s why I signed up for Credit Karma’s free identity monitoring this week. The service, which debuted Monday, supplements the website’s free credit monitoring service, which I signed up for shortly after the Equifax hack.
Identity theft — either through mail fraud, phishing, credit card skimming or other means — has been a growing threat as technology continues to infiltrate every aspect of our everyday lives, and it’s showing no signs of receding. I figure that as a consumer, I needed to take more responsibility for my financial profile and that starts with being in the know.
Credit Karma’s interface is super simple — just log on and go to RESOURCES > IDENTITY MONITORING in the top navigation bar. When I clicked I wasn’t even thinking it would show me anything, but boy, was I wrong.
As the page loaded, five words in bold letters hit me like a ton of bricks: “You’ve been in 2 breaches.” What?!
The site told me that my personal information was at risk due to a breach at Adobe four years ago. I remember the data leak vaguely but had to Google it to refresh my memory. Customers had their payment records exposed in the hack, according to multiple news accounts.
Credit Karma gave me even more details about the Adobe incident: “In October 2013, 153 million Adobe accounts were breached with each containing an internal ID, username, email, encrypted password and a password hint in plain text. The password cryptography was poorly done and many were quickly resolved back to plain text. The unencrypted hints also disclosed much about the passwords, adding further to the frisk that hundreds of millions of adobe customers already faced.”
The scary thing about the Adobe hack, at least as it concerns me, is that I didn’t even remember having an account with them. Adobe agreed to pay $1 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought on by 15 attorneys general, according to security blog site Kregs.
The other breach the new ID monitoring service informed me of is the LinkedIn hack from five years ago. Now, you may be thinking that’s such a long time ago, but if you recall, the social networking site didn’t tell its users the full extent of the problem until just last year.
This is what Credit Karma’s ID monitoring service told me about the LinkedIn breach: “In May 2016, LinkedIn had 164 million email addresses and passwords exposed. Originally hacked in 2012, the data remained out of sight until being offered for sale on a dark market site 4 years later. The passwords in the breach were stored as SHA1 hashes without salt, the vast majority of which were quickly cracked in the days following the release of the data.”
Armed with the breach information, the ID monitoring service then recommended that I get busy protecting myself by changing my passwords. Some people may feel that this is a no-brainer, but it really is invaluable for people who are really busy during the day and forgetful (like me).
So you know what I did? I changed my passwords right then and there. Better to be safe than sorry.
The other thing it tells you to do is to overhaul your online profile on these sites by setting up new security questions and password hints. While many people may not put much thought into these things, your user profile is a major gateway — your digital doorstep, if you will — to authenticating your online identity.
Bonus tip: Answering security questions with random answers, instead of the real ones, is actually a safer way to protect your accounts.
Another thing the ID monitoring service made me realize is that I have signed up for so many services that my email address is “out there” in the databases of a plethora of websites and companies. One false step by them and crooks have another piece of my identity in their hands.
After following those two steps, I began to realize how valuable ID monitoring is going to be for me going forward.
If you’re not already a Credit Karma user, here’s our guide on how to sign up for the free service.
Money expert Clark Howard says that the No. 1 way to protect your identity and credit score is to set up a credit freeze with all three credit bureaus.