John Oliver discussed the Equifax security breach on Sunday's Last Week Tonight, outlining how the credit reporting agency could have prevented the cybersecurity disaster.
In September, Equifax announced that cyber thieves hacked into the company and lifted sensitive information – including names, birth dates, social security numbers, driver's license info and addresses – for roughly 145 million Americans. And as Oliver emphasized to his millennial viewers: it's a huge deal.
"I know there might be some younger people watching this saying, 'Hold on, who cares?' he said. 'We're the first generation to routinely send pictures of our junk to each other over the Internet. Why should we give a shit about someone seeing our social security numbers? But you should know: Criminals can do a lot more with that number than they can with a picture of your dick" – from opening bank accounts to purchasing homes to filing taxes.
But the backstory is equally depressing. In early March, the Department of Homeland Security alerted Equifax to a "critical vulnerability in software" that could have prevented the breach – but the company didn't fix the issue, and hackers exploited the security flaw. Equifax learned about the hack on July 29th but didn't break the news until September 7th, via a video apology from their CEO, Rick Smith.
After untangling the details, Oliver urged his audience members to be proactive by freezing their credit with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – "that way, no one can access it, including you, until you unfreeze it." The irony, he added, is that the companies will likely charge a fee, profiting from Equifax's own debacle.
Unfortunately, there isn't much of a clear way around this problem. "[These companies] make most of their money selling our data to businesses, like banks," Oliver said. "So in their eyes, we're not the consumer – we're the product. To think of it in terms of KFC: We're not the guy buying the 10-piece buckets – we're the fucking chickens."