It can't be said enough: these days, any of us can become a victim of identity theft, and those in power are even more at risk. Whether they want to or not, many of America's most familiar faces are being forced to realize the reality of what hackers can do.
You heard it from the leader of the free world himself. This week, President Obama told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News that "we should not be surprised" at the abilities of hackers to access our personal data. Still, you have to wonder if he was at all surprised when AnnualCreditReport.com (the credit monitoring site that is a joint venture between Equifax, Experian and TransUnion designed to help consumers like you and me to make sure we aren't the victims of identity theft) revealed the credit reports, Social Security numbers and other pieces of information on many noted public figures, including the First Lady. In a bitter chunk of irony, even the tools we use to protect ourselves against identity theft are being targeted by hackers.
For others, specific documents have been posted, including addresses and credit card bills, as well as 30 pages of financial information on the Chief of the LAPD, Charlie Beck.
Of course, it's unclear how accurate this information is, but the wide range of big-name individuals targeted is eyebrow-raising at the least. The list of victims includes the sort of people who are under round-the-clock security, from celebrities like Jay-Z to politicians like Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. Even Robert Mueller was among the attacked, and he's the director of the FBI! Because this was a corporate data breach (where the data was hacked all at one time), there was almost nothing that these people could do to protect themselves, even with their heightened security.
So why them and not me? Actually, you are just as likely to have been breached. As we all know, with celebrity comes exposure. Exposure to paparazzi, exposure to wealth and fame, and exposure to exploitation. But it's not that you haven't been exposed (if you have used AnnualCreditReport.com, you are likely one of the victims), it's just that your case isn't being reported on in the news. Just like Michelle Obama, you are a victim of the same breach, and are at the same risk of having your credit profile abused.
Digital identity theft is more than a scourge and it affects more than the rich and famous. It's a business, and business is booming. It is the responsibility of corporate America to begin hardening their cyber data security, the duty of our government to take an offensive stance on these attacks, and your responsibility to learn more about identity theft prevention. The sooner you do, the better chance you have of ending up in the news like these celebrities.
John Sileo is a cyber security expert and keynote speaker on privacy, identity and reputation protection. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.