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House Committee Staff Report Finds Equifax Data Breach Entirely Preventable, Provides Recommendations for Consumer Reporting Agencies

After a 14-month investigation into the 2017 Equifax data breach, which was one the largest in U.S. history, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a report in December.

The key findings of the report include:

• The breach was entirely preventable because Equifax failed to fully appreciate and mitigate its cybersecurity risks.
• Equifax lacked an accountability and management structure.
• Equifax’s aggressive growth strategy and accumulation of data resulted in a complex IT environment.
• Equifax allowed security certificates to expire.
• Equifax was unprepared to identify, alert and support affected consumers after the breach.

The report concluded with the following recommendations:

• Consumer reporting agencies should provide more transparency to consumers on what data is collected and how it is used.
• Additional oversight authorities and enforcement tools may be needed to enable the Federal Trade Commission to effectively monitor consumer reporting agency data security and practices.
• The Government Accountability Office should examine the effectiveness of current identity monitoring and protection services and provide recommendations to Congress.
• Federal agencies and the private sector should work together to increase transparency of a company’s cybersecurity risks and steps taken to mitigate such risks.
• Federal contractors should be held accountable for cybersecurity with clear requirements.
• The executive branch should work with the private sector to reduce reliance on Social Security numbers as personal identifiers.
• Companies storing sensitive consumer data should transition away from legacy IT and implement modern IT security solutions.

Equifax is one of the largest consumer reporting agencies in the world. The September 2017 breach effected 148 million people, which is nearly half the U.S. population and 56 percent of American adults.

The Report’s key takeaways are an important refresher of data security basics. The recommendations identify a number of insightful issues that will require collaboration between the government and the private sector.

©2019 Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. All Rights Reserved


About this Author

Katherine Armstrong, Drinker Biddle Law Firm, Washington DC, Data Privacy Attorney

Katherine E. Armstrong is counsel in the firm’s Government & Regulatory Affairs Practice Group where she focuses her practice on data privacy issues, including law enforcement investigations, and research and analysis of big data information practices including data broker issues.

Katherine has more than 30 years of consumer protection experience at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), where she served in a variety of roles, including most recently as a Senior Attorney in the Division of Privacy and Identity Protection.  In the Division of...