It’s one of the biggest scandals in cyber security in a long time.

Even though the recent Equifax breach mainly affected people in the U.S., the shockwaves have been felt around the world.

It’s been a huge wake-up call for credit agencies and their customers, and another big reminder of the growing cyber security risks out there.

If you’re unfamiliar with what happened, let’s break it down. Be warned though, it makes for some pretty unpleasant reading.

Equifax is an enormous credit reporting agency. They hold the data of around 800 million people and 88 million customers, and offer services like credit monitoring and fraud prevention. In other words, they’re a big fish.

In September 2017, the Equifax team announced that they had suffered a breach. They estimated that this had taken place between May and July of this year, and some 143 million customers had been affected.

The breach had accessed information like their names, social security numbers, addresses – and about 209,000 credit card numbers.

Oh dear.

About 44% of the U.S. population was affected by the breach – it was catastrophic. In the wake of the damage, shares in Equifax tanked and senior staff went into retirement.

Clark Howard, a money expert, described the event as “the worst data breach in the history of the modern era.” Pretty damning stuff.

So what went wrong?

The hackers took advantage of a flaw in one of Equifax’s website software apps, called Apache Struts.

The bug responsible, however, had been patched by the app developers in March, and the attack didn’t take place until May. Which means that Equifax failed to update their software… and paid a terrible price.

The fact that the disaster was totally avoidable is bad news for Equifax, as it means much of the blame rests on them. It also leaves a stark warning for similar companies, and highlights the dangers of slacking off when it comes to cyber security. Failure to be diligent often comes at a high cost.

What does it mean for everyone else?

It’s scary news for the victims of the attack, because it means the danger isn’t over yet. The threat isn’t necessarily immediate; the attackers could hold onto the data for months or even years before doing anything with it.

So if you’re an Equifax customer, it could mean big trouble. There are ways around the issue, for example a credit freeze can basically block any credit activity unless you personally authorize it with your own unique PIN – preventing the hackers from using the data they’ve obtained.

For those who don’t use Equifax, the news is still worrying. It shows that nobody is really safe from these large-scale attacks, and even big companies don’t offer complete protection.

For those big corporations – this should be the latest in a series of wake-up calls. Cyber security is paramount for organizations that deal with sensitive data, and the consequences of failing to do enough have been illustrated pretty starkly by the Equifax calamity.

Companies can reduce the risk of something similar happening to them by staying on top of their software, making sure programs are updated regularly, and monitoring for any potential issues in the apps they use.

Meanwhile, Avast are committed to doing what they can to help protect companies and individuals from cyber criminals. Their consistent successful performance in tests and rankings prove that they are a reliable and cost-effective way to ensure cyber safety and peace of mind.

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