5 questions journalists should be asking about the Capital One breach
Countless Capital One customers were left reeling this week upon learning that a huge data breach exposed their private information including credit scores, balances, and social insurance numbers. Just days ago the institution revealed that the personal data for more than 100 million credit applications and cards — including six million from Canada — were laid bare.
Paige Thompson — who goes by the name “erratic” online — is alleged to have exploited a vulnerability in Capital One’s online credit card application, for apparently no reason other than to show that she could. Based on the evidence presented by the FBI in court documents, Thompson does not appear to be an experienced hacker, and even seemed to want to get caught, leaving her digital footprint and evidence everywhere.
Reporters have come at this story from many angles, but here are a few questions the media haven’t yet addressed:
1) HOW LONG HAS THIS VULNERABILITY EXISTED?
The focus of this breach has been on the hacker herself — who she is and how she operated — but we don’t know how long this security hole was open, and who else may have taken advantage of it, with what malicious intent. If a more sophisticated hacker had wanted to get their mitts on this data, they could easily have done so. Thompson is less the problem, and more a symptom.
2) WHY ARE BANKS HOLDING ONTO THIS DECADE-OLD DATA IN THE FIRST PLACE?
“Zombie data” — old data that’s considered dead to the company but that still lurks somewhere, waiting to be revived — is dangerous, and the data involved in this hack has been hanging around since possibly about 2005. There’s no good reason for a financial institution to hang onto years-old credit card applications after they’ve been approved or denied. Why was this info even there to be exploited?
3) WHO KNEW WHAT, AND WHEN?
The FBI documents say Capital One was notified July 17 of the breach, but the bank claims it only became aware of the breach on July 19. Why the discrepancy? Is it plausible that no one checked their email for a full two days? Beyond that, Capital One didn’t disclose the breach to customers until July 29 — well after their July 18 second-quarter meeting. What happened during that week and a half? Based on the FBI documents, this doesn’t seem like it took terribly long to figure out what went wrong and who did it.
4) WHAT KIND OF FINE ARE THEY FACING IN CANADA?
When the notorious Equifax breach came to light, Canada gave them little more than a slap on the wrist, instead of imposing tough penalties that would force other institutions to take notice and action. According to our country’s new Digital Privacy Act, fines for this type of privacy breach can be up to $100,000. We still don’t know whether the fine will be applied or the government will dole out another freebie.
5) WHY AREN’T BANKS REQUIRED TO PROVIDE BETTER SECURITY TOOLS TO THEIR CUSTOMERS?
Multi-factor authentication, for example. The government should regulate banks’ safety tools to remove the option of choosing convenience for the customer over security. If every bank has the same privacy measures in place, our national cybersecurity will see real improvements, so why are governments not acting on this? Requiring banks to offer more advanced security — in a similar, standardized way with a defined date — will end the standoff that exists where the banks are too afraid of losing customers to another institution due to the perceived inconvenience of things such as MFA.
While these breaches are scary — and becoming more common all the time — if we push for legal change and aim to protect our personal data, we can stop hackers in their tracks.