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Celebrity hackers target Michelle Obama, Hollywood stars and… you!

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.

Obama Finally Takes Charge on Cyber Security with Executive Order

It took getting bit in public, but the President has finally taken a firm stance on online privacy protection with a brand new initiative.

Only weeks ago cyber hackers attacked the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and a bevy of massive corporate behemoths. Taking over their systems was a bit like taking candy from a candy factory (China manufacturers much of the security infrastructure that’s used to keep the bad guys out – so there are lots of back doors when they want to dip into the cookie jar). 

In the past, certain pieces of proposed anti-piracy legislation like SOPA and CISPA have come under fire for being too restrictive and allowing private entities too much access to personal data. President Obama has expressed disapproval for those acts in the past, and in his State of the Union address Tuesday, he finally announced a cyber security executive order aimed at securing America’s infrastructure. Thank the gods of security that he is finally taking charge.

“We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mails. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets,” Obama said. He also urged Congress to pass legislation to enforce security measures, saying it must be a bipartisan effort.  

The order calls for greater dissemination of cyber threat info, consultation of privacy experts, and an identification of which sectors are at greatest risk of potential data security breaches. Another key section asserts that privacy and civil liberties will be taken into consideration by the agencies involved. 

In doing this, the President has publicly acknowledged the dangers that threaten anyone who uses the internet, and the steps we need to take to fight against them. The cat is out of the bag (officially), though it escaped years ago for those of us who watch this sort of thing. As usual, it took getting stung where it counts (our news agencies) before anyone was willing to act on the threat.

Hopefully, this will come as a wake-up call to all those still in the dark about the realities of digital identity theft. It’s a real threat that poses risks not just on an individual level, but on a global scale as well.

Businesses should read the executive order online and then talk to a data security and online privacy expert to learn more about how they can safeguard their interests. Staying up-to-date on the latest regulations is crucial to maintaining robust security – after all, you can’t play the game if you don’t know the rules. 

John Sileo is an online privacy expert and keynote speaker on cyber security and online privacy. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent work on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.