Privacy watchdog investigating Equifax data hack
Canada’s privacy watchdog launched an investigation into the massive Equifax Inc. data breach after hearing from dozens of concerned Canadians as customers in the country have yet to be told whether hackers stole their personal information.
“The investigation is a priority for our office given the sensitivity of the personal information that Equifax holds,” the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada said in an announcement on its website.
Equifax, a credit-monitoring company used by many creditors to check consumers’ credit histories, said on Sept. 7 that it fell victim to a massive cyberattack that may have compromised the personal data of up to 143 million Americans.
The public disclosure came months after the company learned of the incident, stemming from a weakness in an open-source software package called Apache Struts, on July 29. The software problem was detected in March and a recommended software patch was released shortly afterward.
When it announced the security issue, Equifax acknowledged the personal information of a limited number of Canadian and U.K. residents may have been breached as well.
More than a week later, on Friday, Equifax released the British figure, saying fewer than 400,000 British consumers had some of their personal information compromised, but it was more limited in scope and unlikely to lead to identity theft.
The company has remained mum on how many Canadians were affected, and has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
The credit monitoring company’s call centre staff have told callers that only Canadians that have credit files in the U.S. were likely to be impacted. However, the privacy commissioner said that at this point, it is not clear that the affected data was limited to Canadians with U.S. dealings.
The slow pace of information could be good or bad news for consumers in the Great White North.
It’s likely Canadians are the last to find out because the fewest number of them have been impacted, said Hasan Cavusoglu, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.
It’s less likely, but also possible, that the reason is more technical, he said, and Equifax has been unable to pinpoint the segment of Canadian consumers at risk.
Some consumers have expressed concern about pace of communication and lack of information about the breach, one of the largest online data breaches in history.
“The company was a victim of fraud and didn’t alert its consumers,” said Bethany Agnew-Americano, the lead plaintiff in a proposed class action, filed in Ontario on Sept. 12.
It’s one of at least two class actions filed on behalf of Canadians whose information was stored on Equifax databases, alleging the company breached its contract with class members as well as their privacy rights, was negligent in handling their information, and breached provincial privacy statutes.
The credit monitoring company makes money from offering identity theft protection and fraud alert services, and it needs to be held accountable, Agnew-Americano said.
The Canadian Automobile Association, which partnered with Equifax on its identity protection program, said it is writing tot he privacy commissioner requesting the office push the company to provide more information to Canadians.
The CAA is notifying the roughly 10,000 members who participated in the program that they may have had sensitive data divulged.
The privacy commissioner’s office tried to soothe some of the brewing frustrations by assuring consumers that Equifax will notify all impacted Canadians in writing as soon as possible.
However, it warned Equifax would not be calling individual consumers and advised Canadians to hang up if anyone calls them claiming to be affiliated with Equifax – regardless of what the caller ID says – as it could be a scam.
Equifax will also offer free credit monitoring to Canadians that are affected, the office said.
While Canadians wait to hear more about the state of their personal data, the company’s reputation is taking a big hit as it’s already known the breach impacted millions, said Cavusoglu.
“Who will trust Equifax after this, this scale of an event,” he said. “Business will be substantially effected as a result.”
— With files from The Associated Press