Thoughts, Prayers & Hackers


“Thoughts and prayers” responses to mass shootings in America evidence our tolerance of such horrors. Data hacks are nowhere near as bad, but our responses are.

Like telling teachers to carry pistols, the most common refrain after a data breach is to remind people that they need to take responsibility for protecting themselves. The implicit shrug is that data hacks are unavoidable, like shootings. Death isn’t a direct outcome, thankfully, but stolen identities and financial crimes are.

The number of people impacted by data breaches is shockingly huge, increasing 44% in 2017. Over the same two-year stretch, the number of credit cards exposed went up 88%, and over 150 million Social Security numbers were revealed. The recent Capital One hack made 140,000 Social Security numbers and 80,000 bank account numbers available for nefarious purposes.

Out of 179 million exposed data records exposed, almost a third of those victims reported identify fraud (that’s , which can include a variety of illicit financial transactions. Clearing up such violations usually takes a full day of effort, but for some can take a month or longer, and that’s only if you know you’ve been hacked…sometimes it can take months before a breach is reported (the Capital One attack happened three months ago).

Once your personal data are put into various dark markets, that data never go away. Attacks can be many months or years in the making.

That risk gets worse if you consider all of the other uses for stolen personal data, like online blackmail threats and/or publishing it so as to shame people (it’s called “doxing”). 

It’s ludicrous to expect individuals to protect themselves with isolated, independent actions against a global phenomenon that is structurally aligned to exploit them; changing passwords or subscribing to a credit monitoring service are small solace to those of us who’ve had our privacy hacked and distributed amongst vast networks of evildoers.

Yet that’s the “thought” we get from experts every time there’s another event.

Again, gun violence is much, much worse, but “sending thoughts” to victims — whether of sympathy or self-reliance advice — is simply reminding us that we’re defenseless.

Maybe we need prayer after all. 

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