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Heitkamp: Keeping ND families safe, Equifax accountable

By Staff | Sep 22, 2017

Just a few weeks ago, I stood in a crowded gymnasium with over 1,000 Bismarck middle school students to talk with them about how to protect themselves from cyber hacking, online bullying, and internet scams.

Like many Americans, most of the students could navigate social media and the internet as easily as brushing their teeth but they weren’t as aware of how their activity can leave their data and devices exposed.

As learning and conducting business on the web becomes more and more embedded in our daily lives, we know it’s critical that our kids understand how to keep themselves protected online as readily as they would not open the door to strangers.

But we also know that even the most diligent safety practices can’t always prevent dangers that exist on the internet even from websites we trust.

The day before my discussion on cybersecurity with Google, the credit rating company Equifax publicly announced one of the largest data security breaches our nation has ever seen potentially impacting 143 million Americans.

When our security is compromised, like it was for up to 248,000 North Dakotans in the Equifax hack, families and businesses need to know what to do next. If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to this hack, make sure to monitor your credit statements for money missing, inaccurate personal information or charges, credit inquires or new lines of credit from companies you have never contacted, or bills you used to receive that are no longer being delivered to you. Be sure to read more safety tips from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at: consumerfinance.gov.

In the U.S. Senate, I’m working to boost North Dakotans’ awareness of safety measures they can control, and to hold companies like Equifax accountable for any security breaches or wrongdoing. We also need to learn what other websites need to do to protect their customers.

We recently learned that top executives at Equifax had sold $1.5 million in the company’s securities just days before announcing the massive cyber-hack, and all of us deserve answers immediately. If senior Equifax officials knew about the hack when they sold their securities deliberately profiting from the misery of millions of Americans and a third of North Dakotans whose information was jeopardized they ought to be behind bars.

I’m also calling on leaders of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Justice to get to the bottom of what happened and enforce the law to its fullest extent against anyone found guilty of wrongdoing. Additionally, Congress needs to conduct an investigation as quickly as possible.

In a fast-paced world where technology can improve our ability to learn, boost businesses, and support growing families, we need to not only hold companies accountable for the role they play, but to make sure everyone knows the ABCs of internet safety to protect our families from preventable threats online.

While there are many important ways to safeguard yourself and your kids online, here are some simple tips that Google’s Online Safety Roadshow and I discussed with kids in Bismarck:

Think before you share: Anything you post online any message, picture, status update, or blog post has the potential to be shared. Always assume that anything you post will be shared and viewed by others.

Use strong passwords: Make sure you have strong passwords on your phone, computer, and any sites that house your financial and other personal information online. And change those passwords regularly.

Adjust your settings accordingly: Understand and adjust your settings on the sites and apps you use. The settings on the sites you visit allow you to choose what you share and who you share your information with.

Be vigilant of online scams: Know how to identify and avoid scams online. Everyone knows to lock their doors at night. The same principle applies online. Be suspicious of emails from people you don’t know who could try to steal your identity. And be wary of scammers trying to impersonate someone or something you know.

Each of us can do our part to protect ourselves and our families online and I encourage all North Dakotans to take proactive steps to stay safe.

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