COMMUNITY NOTEBOOK: JUST WHEN YOU THINK YOU’RE SAFE A CYBER ATTACK EXPOSES YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION

a close up of a person typing on a laptop

In a world where technology seems to outpace controls and security, and where hackers seem to have the upper hand, one can never be too safe. 

In late March, I received a letter in the mail with some news that would raise anyone’s hair or heartbeat. The letter from my bank stated there was an incident back in February involving unauthorized access to their network. Certain folders were hit in the cyberattack with sensitive information going into the wrong hands. 

As a result, names and numbers were hit, leaving many bank users, like myself, compromised. 

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to deal with something of mine ending up in the wrong hands. Just weeks before I learned of the cyberattack, my credit card information was stolen and used for some food over in Japan. With an alert coming across my phone, I quickly solved the problem with a bank representative by closing the card and obtaining a new one, no sweat and no worries. 

A cyberattack resulting in personal information placed out of a safe domain is far different, however. Thankfully, the bank arranged for its bank clients to receive a one-year membership with an identity defense product to help detect any misuse of personal information and resolve any instance of identity theft. What happens after that year? We will see. 

My bank isn’t the first one to be hit by a cyberattack, nor will it be the last. Look at all the ransomware attacks by hackers who have targeted hospitals, tech companies and pharmaceuticals. A “60 Minutes” episode on April 14 detailed how young hackers from the U.S., the United Kingdom and Canada, known as Scattered Spider, are joining forces with an already strong group of Russian ransomware hackers, known as BlackCat. Last September, Scattered Spider conducted a ransomware attack on MGM Resorts, disrupting casinos and resorts and costing them more than $100 million. 

Bryan Vorndran, the FBI’s top cybercrime official, told “60 Minutes” no sector, company or type of organization is off limits to hackers. Global losses from ransomware attacks are more than $1 billion. 

With data breaches becoming all too common these days, now is a good time to take steps to safeguard your financial and personal information. Federal law gives people the right to get a free copy of their credit report every 12 months from the three credit bureaus. In addition, the bureaus have permanently extended a program that lets you check your credit report from each once a week for free at AnnualCreditReport.com, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The credit reports give people the ability to check for any issues like new accounts you didn’t open, credit inquiries that don’t match when you applied for credit and balances not matching your statements.

For the best protection, people can freeze their credit. According to Nerd Wallet, a credit freeze makes it unlikely your stolen information can be used to open new accounts in your name. With a freeze in place, creditors can’t access your credit history and will decline to open a new account. Freezing is free at each of the three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, and doesn’t affect your credit score.

Finally, it never hurts to update your passwords and sign up for an identity-theft protection service.

Jim McCarthy
Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.