The credit bureau agency Equifax publicly reported a data breach affecting about 143 million Americans on September 7, although the company was attacked months before then. According to Equifax, the breach was caused by a vulnerability in a website application, but no further details were provided. What does this mean for the security of your personal data?

The Equifax hack has some serious consequences, because the credit bureau keeps a trove of personal digital information for millions of people. Information compromised in the attack includes names, birth dates, and Social Security Numbers, as well as driver’s license and credit card numbers for more than 200,000 people.

Even though personal consumers were affected as opposed to businesses, the attack has a ripple effect that will be felt for many years to come. Many businesses rely on the information kept by Equifax as an authentication method for daily consumer transactions. This kind of validation method used by businesses has caused widespread criticism of Equifax to be held to a higher security standard.

Ways the information Equifax stores can be used by attackers:

  • False insurance claims
  • Fake IRS returns for fraudulent refunds
  • Access to your banking accounts to withdraw money
  • Access to your Social Security number to steal your identity

As you can see, the danger lies in more than just getting your banking information. Issuing a new credit card number is one thing, but issuing a new date of birth is another. Unfortunately, this breach means that you’re going to have to be extra vigilant about your personal information, not just your credit card numbers. The breach exposed the data of about 143 million U.S. customers, which is about half of the entire population. It’s safer to assume your information was compromised than not.

If you’ve been affected by the Equifax data breach, here are some ways you can protect yourself:

  • Regularly check your financial statements for fraudulent activity, especially credit cards you don’t use often
  • Pay attention to your incoming mail to see if you no longer receive mail because your address has been changed
  • Plan to file your taxes early to prevent attackers from getting your refund first
  • Enroll in free credit monitoring
  • Implement a credit freeze to stop people from opening a credit account in your name. This may cost money to implement and remove, depending on where you live and whether you’ve already been a victim of credit card fraud.

This type of massive breach highlights the security vulnerabilities that are found website applications, and critics are calling for more stringent security practices to help organizations detect, prevent and fix vulnerabilities throughout the application lifecycle. For more information, you can check to see whether you’ve been affected here, although the cybersecurity researcher Brian Krebs has reported that the site may not be working properly. You may also request your free credit report (consumers are granted one annually) to monitor any activity.