SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - At least 145-million Americans could be impacted by this year's Equifax data breach, but it's likely that even more information could be at risk.
You can find personal information in different places throughout the internet, like your birthday, home address, and answers to security questions like your mother's maiden name. Those are all pieces to the puzzle of your life, and the completed masterpiece was leaked through the Equifax breach, and potentially other outlets.
"It's the problem that keeps on giving," said Consumer Watchdog Jerry Zivic.
Our personal information is out there. A small gap in a cyber system could leave just enough space for hackers to wiggle their way in and access data.
"Tthe information specific to Equifax unfortunately contains some more sensitive information that wouldn't necessarily have been out there before like answers to security questions and information about credit," said Serge Jorgensen, Founder of cyber security data forensics group Sylint.
44% of the American population could be impacted by the breach, but Jorgensen said the other 56% likely has personal information floating around on the internet, which could be accessed by hackers without much effort.
"Equifax made a little bit of a one stop shop for the attackers for that they'd get things in a tight package so they wouldn't have to acquire it individually," explained Jorgensen.
"Everybody's information has been exposed now," said Zivic. "What do we about this? There's nothing that we can do about this."
Zivic believes credit monitoring will become a full time job for many Americans.
"[Equifax] put a full time responsibility on us for the rest of our lives. They say go check online every day so all we're going to do is know five minutes sooner that our credit has been hacked," explained Zivic.
The concern has more Americans making in-store purchases in cash as part of an effort to hold back on sharing personal information, but the victims might not see the effects of the breach for decadesm because the hackers likely won't use the information for years.
"20 years from now you could be going out to buy a house and low and behold, you have bad credit," said Zivic. "In fact, I would recommend anybody making a large purchase like a house leave a little extra time because you don't know what's going to appear on your credit report."
Floridians need to pay extra attention when checking their credit. A study by WalletHub found Florida to be the 4th worst state for identity theft and fraud, behind California, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia. Zivic and Jorgensen agree that the solution starts with educating people to hold back some personal information while on the internet.
"Everybody's social security number is out there," explained Zivic. "I'm sure I could find yours within five minutes of searching online and I have no experience in that area."
Jorgensen said large corporations like banks need to become more strict before accepting information from new customers and encourages all companies to enhance its cyber security measures.
"In their defense the hackers just have to find that one vulnerability, one loop hole," said Jorgensen of potential hackers.
Zivic suggests taking extra steps so potential hackers have to do a lot of extra work before accessing your personal information.
"You want to be in a situation where you bank in different places," suggested Zivic. "Don't put all your eggs in one basket. It's just a harder trail to follow to find all of your funds."
The former CEO of Equifax said the investigation now involves the FBI and believes it was a result of both human and technological error. Federal lawmakers have called for legislation to better protect Americans from another data breach in the future.