What would happen if an entire nation got hacked?
In July, news broke of that exact scenario unfolding in Bulgaria, where the digital records of nearly every adult in the country were stolen from the nation’s Ministry of Finance.
In a country with a population of just 7 million people, the attack exposed sensitive details — including names, addresses, salaries, and social security information — of nearly 5 million citizens.
The breach made international headlines after an anonymous source emailed the stolen records to Bulgarian media outlets. The author claimed responsibility and taunted Bulgarian officials: “Your government is slow to develop, your state of cybersecurity is [a parody].” Soon after, the leaked files reportedly surfaced on hacker forums, where troves of personally identifiable information, known as PII, can be sold for considerable sums.
Governments are a top target for cybercriminals
If you’re not Bulgarian, you may be hoping you’re in the clear. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. You’ve probably heard about data breaches at big corporations like Equifax and Yahoo, but security breaches are not limited to the private sector.
Governments hold troves of sensitive data, making them attractive targets for both individual and state-sponsored hacks. Some thieves are motivated by the prospect of personal gain. Many official records contain citizens’ personal information, which an attacker can then commodify on the dark web. Other actors may hope to disrupt government services or systems, steal intellectual property, or otherwise chip away at the function of the government.
The U.S. government has reportedly suffered several high-profile attacks in recent years. In 2016, Chinese hackers lifted hacking tools from the NSA. Russia and the U.S. continue to battle over power-grid attacks. And Russian hackers successfully targeted the U.S. election system in 2016.
In the case of the Bulgarian incident, the investigation is ongoing, but some analysts speculate it was a white-hat attack meant to expose inefficiencies in the nation’s cyber-security practices. Others have suggested that another nation could be behind the breach.
Regardless, the incident shows how cyberattacks in the public sector are a threat to pretty much everyone. And the risk continues to grow. According to a recent Verizon report , public-sector cyber espionage spiked 17 percent from 2017 to 2018. The report also shows government data breaches are slow to be discovered, often going undetected for years — which means your data could already be exposed without your knowledge.
What is the government doing about data security?
In light of all this, you may be wondering: What is the government doing to protect my data?
In the U.S., all 50 states have laws in place to protect citizens’ data. However, these regulations are not standardized, and some states have much broader security requirements than others.
There’s also some defense at the federal level.
In 2018, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Act was signed into law, establishing the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within the Department of Homeland Security. The burgeoning agency is tasked with defending government networks from cyberattacks.
But many field experts feel these measures aren’t enough. Some call for the adoption of stronger federal regulations that limit how organizations — both public and private — can collect, use, and store personal data.
The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides one model for how regulatory policy can give citizens and consumers more control over their privacy. The law lets people request to view and erase their online data, and it limits how organizations can use personal information. Others feel the private sector has a greater role to play.
Regardless, every citizen should take steps to protect their own data. But, how?
How can I safeguard my data?
The first step to securing your privacy is to minimize your digital footprint. You can manage your risk by limiting the amount of data you share in the first place.
Still, it’s impossible to avoid sharing key information with the government. After all, the government gave you your Social Security number, and if you file tax returns with the IRS, it also likely has your date of birth, income information, and home address.
That’s one reason why it’s a good idea to use an identity protection service. Then, even if your PII winds up exposed on the dark web — like the leaked files from the Bulgaria tax hack — you’ll be notified and can immediately begin mapping out a plan for recovery.
If you’re a PrivacyArmor Plus member, you can visit your portal to activate dark web monitoring. We’ll alert you if we detect any of your registered credentials, like your driver’s license or credit card numbers, on the dark web.
This is a critical step in combatting synthetic identity fraud, an increasingly prevalent form of identity theft.
Synthetic identity fraud occurs when criminals combine a victim’s real data with fake information (or the real data of multiple victims) to create a fabricated credit profile. Many of the other employee identity protection services fail to detect this method, as the fictional persona isn’t directly linked to the victim(s).
You can add yet another layer of protection by switching on social media monitoring. We’ll send you actionable alerts if we detect questionable material on your linked social accounts. And, as always, if your identity or data are compromised, our Privacy Advocates will be on hand 24/7 to help with remediation.
When it comes to recovering from a data breach, whether your information is leaked from a private firm or a government agency, these proactive measures may make all the difference. And, in the meanwhile, they just might provide you with some much-needed peace of mind.