Anthony Wing Kosner
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley announced Friday that, “This is not a good day for South Carolina.” The bad news was having to admit a massive security breach in the State’s Department of Revenue that resulted in the theft of 3.6 million social security numbers and 387,000 credit/debit card numbers (only 16,000 of which, it is believed, were unencrypted,) This incident affects more than three-quarters of South Carolina’s 4.6 million population.
Haley characterized this as an “attack by an international hacker,” but no details have been released about the identity of the perpetrator while their investigation is under way. The State became aware of the breach on October 10 but could not close it until ten days later. Haley said she wants the hacker, ”slammed to the wall,” and certainly she must feel slammed as well. Was it just the luck of the draw, or are South Carolina’s cyber defenses particularly weak? This will be a question that the other 49 states will have to answer.
This incident will also place cyber security on the table for the presidential candidates as well. Even more than climate change, cyber security is a big complex issue that does not translate well into soundbites, 30-second spots or talking points. It is scandalous, but unsurprising, that this issue came up only fleetingly in the last presidential debate. Cyber security will someday be seen as right up there with Social Security, health insurance and national defense as key measures of our well-being. This attack makes it clear that not only are individuals incapable of adequately protecting themselves through consumer grade solutions, and not only do the vulnerabilities of business place consumers at risk, but government itself is not up to the task of vouchsafing its citizen’s identity.