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First American Financial Exposes 885 Million Mortgage Documents

Approximately 885 million digital documents have been exposed from mortgage deals that date back to 2003. First American Financial Corp is a provider of title insurance, as well as other services for the mortgage and real estate industries, and it allowed millions of records to be exposed according to one report.

The exposure is likely to put a variety of bank account statements and account numbers at risk, as well as Social Security numbers, tax records, wire transaction receipts, mortgage records, and driver’s license images. All of this information could be read through a web browser without getting authentication from anyone.

First American Financial Corp first learned of its designed defect on May 24 when one of the production applications made it possible for people to gain unauthorized access of its customer data. This information was provided to USA TODAY by the company in a written statement. It also said that privacy, security, and confidentiality are the top priorities for the company, and it is committed to protecting the information of its customers.

The statement also added that First American Financial Corp took action immediately to address the full situation and shut down the external access option for the application. It is currently evaluating the effects of the situation and if any issues were relating to customer information security. It also mentions that it hired an outsourced and unbiased forensic firm to ensure that there has been no unauthorized and meaningful access to its customer data.

Brian Krebs wrote the report and claims that he was contacted by Ben Shoval, a Washington state real estate professional, who said that he’d had no luck getting any response from the company about what he found out, which was that portions of its website had leaked hundreds of millions of customer records.

The initial report by Krebs claimed that Shoval learned that anyone that knew the URL for any valid document on the website could also view other documents by just modifying one or two digits in the link. Krebs then chose to confirm the findings of the real estate developer. He used to be a reporter for the Washington Post and was the first to report about another high-profile data breach because he determined that millions and millions of Facebook users had account passwords that were stored in plain-text format, which could be searched by over 20,000 Facebook employees.

Regardless of past reports, Kreb claims that this exposure issue is one of the worst he has seen because there are just so many individuals involved. Anyone who has ever gotten a document link by First American Financial Corp via email is likely to be a victim in this breach.

The chief data scientist from Rapid7 Labs, Bob Rudis, claims that this exposure is severe for First American, but it also highlights the need for a more comprehensive approach to securing the network and systems, especially for areas that house highly sensitive information.

He also says that anti-malware products, firewalls, and other security controls aren’t enough to reduce that unwanted exposure. Organizations need to think like a cyber-attacker to help them identify any areas of weakness before cybercriminals do it themselves.

The Director of Solution Engineering at CipherCloud, Tyler Owen, says that there has been a gross negligence by First American Financial Corp. He believes that everyone in the info security industry has become numb to these breaches and disclosures because they happen more and more frequently (about once a week). Regardless of the negative impacts and bad press for the company, organizations just aren’t putting enough emphasis on secure processes and data security.

The victims here are primarily the people who have had their data exposed because they have little to no recourse available to them.

The problem is that there is no information about who accessed the files over time, and no one has any concrete information about the misuse of the data because of the temporal exposure. It’s almost impossible to determine who leaked the information, who had access to it, who accessed it, and what they did with that ill-gotten information. If it were to, say, end up being sold on the dark web market, it might generate a lead, but nothing has surfaced so far.

If you believe you were part of the data breach, you should monitor your credit report and look for signs that someone has used your credit card without your permission. You can also freeze your credit report so that no new credit applications can be opened. Your financial organization is likely to have tools available to help you; utilize those tools to ensure that there is no activity on your accounts without your knowledge. It’s also helpful to listen for whatever information First American provides about the matter. That way, you’re well aware of something going amiss and can talk to the right people to seek restitution.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

Financial Preparedness in a Disaster

You have probably heard that it’s important to be prepared for a disaster. You might have a first aid kit set aside, food and water, or a battery-operated radio. But, are you financially prepared?

Creating an Emergency Fund

It might be tough but try to set aside some money a little at a time. Even if you can put $10 a week in an envelope, it’s better than nothing. Saving change can really add up quickly, too. Keeping a credit card available is also a good idea, but remember…in a disaster situation, it might be very difficult to use a credit card. Here’s a few more ways to save some cash in the event of a disaster:

  • Limit or Quit Habits – If you smoke, drink fancy lattes, or even love your extravagant dinners, consider limiting them or even quitting them. Let’s say the latte you get every day before work is $6 once you pay for the tip. If you stop doing that, or even make them at home, you could save $1000 to $2000 or more over the course of a year.
  • Pay Bills When They are Due – You might not even realize it but paying your bills on time can also help you save money. Each late fee adds up, and so does interest. Most major lenders and utility companies allow you to schedule payments in advance, so if you are sure to have money in the bank, this is a great idea.
  • Get a New Gig – Finally, think of things that you can do to earn more money. Do you have a hobby you like, such as woodworking or knitting, that you could do for profit? Do you write? There are easy to find writing jobs online, too. If you have a skill like that, or something similar, consider looking at freelance sites like Fiverr. Can you cook? Bake and sell your creations to family and friends. All of these things can bring extra cash in; cash that you can use in the case of a disaster.

There is not a solution here that will work for every family, but you should be able to think of some way to help you put away a little money. You also might be able to do two or three things. Some people believe we are close to some type of world disaster, like, I dunno, our government is taking about building short range nukes again. GREAT IDEA! So you might want to be ready just in case.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

Is It Fraud or are You just Crazy?

What would you rather have happen to you? A Russian ring of hackers has infiltrated your computer and smartphone and is hell-bent on taking control of your finances, social media life, even the smart gadgets in your house…OR…you’ve just been diagnosed with paranoid psychosis, and in fact, nobody’s out to harm you at all.

12DIn a day and age where it’s become increasingly easy for hackers to hijack your credit card and bank accounts, spy on your baby by hacking into the baby-cam and spy on you via your laptop’s camera … the line between paranoia and real-life spying has become very muddled.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a day that goes by that someone contacts me completely convinced they are being spied on. Maybe they are, most likely they are not. Especially when they begin to explain how every device they own and seems to know everything about them and so on. The likelihood of a hacker having control over their TV is pretty small.

For example, 30 years ago if someone said, “Someone is watching me through my computer,” we’d just assume that person was delusional and needed some medication. Nowadays, we’re apt to immediately think, “Put tape on your laptop’s camera hole!”

So how can we weed out the crazies from the true victims? Just because your laptop has a camera hole doesn’t mean you can’t be imagining that your ex-spouse is spying on you through it.

Many claims of fraud or victimization are real, and many are deliberately made up for financial gain (e.g., faking back pain after a fender bender) or are the result of mental illness.

Sometimes, it’s obvious when the claim is fraudulent or the result of being “crazy.” In fact, the tip-offs that it’s mental illness at play are more obvious than when it’s fraud, since the con artist can be quite skilled.

A general rule of thumb is to look at the simplicity—or lack thereof—of the case. Is the claimed cause simple or convoluted?

For example, you hear a crash, race into the living room and see that your favorite vase—which is located near the bottom of the staircase—has been broken to smithereens. Near the vase is a basketball. At the top of the staircase are your two young sons with scared looks on their faces.

They cough up an explanation: “We were in the living room reading. The basketball was on the floor. A gust of wind blew through the window so hard that it tossed the basketball into the vase. We thought you’d blame us so we ran up the stairs.”

Common sense must be used in determining the most probable cause of an event. This holds for parents, claims adjustors, detectives and juries at a trial. The best judge views things through the lens of simplicity.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to BestIDTheftCompanys.com discussing identity theft prevention.

Financial Services and Retail band together to fight Fraud

Finally, retailers and banks have agreed to work together to fight data breach incidents, foregoing the finger-pointing of who’s responsible for prevention and recovery.

1DThis means both entities will work to improve technology that will protect consumers. Historically, the squabbling consisted of retailers accusing banks of being lethargic at adopting updated, more secure debit card technology; and banks insisting that retailers soak up more of the costs for card replacement following breaches.

However, despite the move forward of joining forces, banks and retailers will surely continue having differences. For example, the cost of getting replacement cards is “not something that the two industries are likely to agree upon,” said Tim Pawlenty to Reuters; he’s chief executive of the Financial Services Roundtable.

So how did both parties decide to join forces? Pawlenty was contacted by Sandy Kennedy, the head of the retail leaders group.

This partnership will develop improved communication so that retailers can have a formal program regarding cyber threats. “We both viewed this as an opportunity to collaborate rather than to wage a public battle,” says Brian Dodge of the retail leaders group.

In addition to card related breaches, the partnership will focus also on smartphone security. Use of mobiles to make payments has stunted progress between retailers and banks.

In fact, MasterCard Inc. and Visa Inc. have named a 2015 deadline to implement “chip and PIN” cards to replace the magnetic stripped cards that are so vulnerable to hacking.

Unfortunately, this switch is pricey, and both retailers and banks are not willing to be the first to take that dive off the high board. Especially since more and more people are using mobiles to make payments.

However, security for mobile users could reinforce the retail-bank partnership, says David Robertson, publisher of The Nilson Report. “We need to make sure that mobile becomes a secure way of doing business,” he says.

Robert Siciliano is an Identity Theft Expert to AllClearID. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video. Disclosures.

Student Financial Aid Fraud is a big Problem

Educational institutions are giving out student loans and grants, and the recipients aren’t even attending school. Instead they’re spending the money any which way, while the schools have no idea they’re being ripped off.

9DWith a database, the Education Department flags applicants who’ve applied for federal Pell grants—applicants with an “unusual enrollment history,” such as having received financial aid for at least three schools in only 12 months.

The Department forwards these suspect names to educational institutions; the schools then request that applicants provide documents including prior transcripts. What the school then gets from the applicant determines if a loan or grant is denied.

This flagging procedure has caught 126,000 applicants who sought aid for the 2013-2014 school year.

It’s so easy to scam schools because most federal aid does not require a credit check, and how the money is spent is not tightly restricted.

A school receives the money from the government and spends some on tuition. The remainder is sent as a check to the recipients to spend on books and even living expenses while (supposedly) the recipient attends classes.

Community colleges are especially vulnerable due to their open enrollment and low tuition. The lower the tuition, the more money that’s left over to be sent to the con artist.

The proliferation of this scam can be attributed to the Internet because online applications can result in receiving aid—without the applicant ever being within a mile of the campus.

Application Red Flags

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) names the following alerts that financial aid offices can check applications for.

  • Large financial aid refunds or disbursements
  • Attendance at several other colleges
  • A large student loan balance but no degree

Unfortunately, these red flags won’t flutter much if the applicant is a first-time scammer.

Data Red Flags (according to the AACC)

  • Several registrations coming from similar locations out of state
  • Several uses of the same PO box, physical address or IP address
  • Multiple uses of the same computer and/or bank account
  • The emergency contact is the same person for multiple registrants.
  • Certain courses getting a fast increase in number of enrollees
  • Frequent communication from similar individuals or locations

Every applicant should be identity-proofed, which is easier said than done. Verification is one element of identity proofing.

To combat this fraud, Finaid.org notes:

  1. Families must sign a waiver allowing the financial aid office to obtain tax returns straight from the IRS. Some people have submitted fraudulent tax return copies during verification. Getting them directly from the IRS prevents falsification. Another route is to require families to provide copies of their 1099 and W-2 forms, especially when income figures seem suspect.
  2. Request copies of the applicant’s four most recent bank statements; inspect them for unusual transfers and unreported income.
  3. Conduct 100 percent verification.
  4. For parents claiming to be enrolled in college, require a proof of registration plus copy of the paid tuition bill. Confirm registration with the school. And if a parent with a PhD or master’s degree is returning to school for an associate’s degree, be highly suspect.
  5. In cases of divorce or separation, ask for the divorce decree or proof of legal separation, plus street address for each parent.
  6. Compare to each other two consecutive income tax returns to detect any movement of assets to hide them.

There’s more that can be done for identity proofing: biometric software. Biometric Signature ID (BSI) has designed a “Missing Link” patented software-only biometric.

This is the most potent form of ID verification on today’s market, and additional hardware is not required. It measures:

  • Unique way someone moves the mouse, finger or stylus upon logging in
  • Length, direction angle, speed, stroke height, of the

The password is created with BioSig-ID™. Measurement of the above can positively identify the user, regardless of what device they log into. This technology makes it impossible for a fraudster to impersonate the user.

With these unique patterns, BSI software can distinguish the user from everyone else. If the person who registered for the account is NOT the same person who is attempting access, they are stopped – avoiding any potential cheating or financial aid fraud.

Robert Siciliano, personal security and identity theft expert and BioSig-ID advisory board member. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked! See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video. Disclosures.

Oversharing on Social Media Common Amongst 50+

Thanks to social media, societal norms have undergone a seismic shift in the past five years. What was once considered private or even taboo is not only fair game, it’s expected. But this can have serious consequences from the ending of friendships to exposure to physical harm.

I’ve talked about the concept of TMI or too much information and how social networking and mobile devices have made sharing so much easier and faster than ever before. But we all need to seriously think about some hard consequences of sharing too much personal information. Thinks about it…is that friend really a friend if you haven’t seen them in 25 years?

McAfee’s Fifty Plus Booms Online study found despite the fact that social networks have a reputation among the younger generation as a hub for drama among friends, this is also the case among other demographics—even in the 50-and-over age group. According to respondents, 16% of those who are active on social networks have had a negative experience, with almost 20% of those resulting in ending a friendship.

Further, the study finds that even though 88% consider themselves tech-savvy, they are still engaging in dangerous online behavior, such as sharing personal information with people they have never met in person. Even though 75% of them believe that social networks can expose them to risks such as fraud and identity theft, 52% have shared their email address, 27% their mobile phone number and 26% their home address. All things that open them up to possible exploitation and even physical harm.

They are also using their mobile devices to share information. Nearly one in four (24%) mobile users have used their device to send personal or intimate text messages, emails or photos to someone and yet over 30% do not have basic password protection on their mobile devices and almost half do not have any security software on their mobile devices.

financial-fraud

And because these boomers (and all of us) are spending more time online─with 97% of them going online daily and spending an average of 5 hours a day online─ we all must be aware of the concerns that exist with the increased use of mobile devices for everyday tasks and social networking and what information we may be sharing.

Here’s some tips to help us stay protected:

  • Remember the Internet is forever—Even if you have the highest privacy settings, it’s good practice to consider anything you do on the Internet as public knowledge, so be careful what you share online or via your mobile device.
  • Don’t reveal personal information—Seriously consider why it’s needed before you post your address, phone number, Social Security number, or other personal information online.
  • Put a PIN on it—Make sure you have your smartphone and tablet set to auto-lock after a certain time of unused and make sure it requires a PIN or passcode to unlock it. This is especially helpful to protect any information you do not want seen should your device be lost or stolen.
  • Manage your privacy settings—At most, only friends you know in real life should be able to see details of your profile.
  • Change your passwords frequently—In addition to choosing passwords that are difficult to guess (try to make them at least eight characters long and a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols), remember to regularly change your passwords.
  • Turn off the GPS (Global Positioning Service) function on your smartphone camera—If you are going to be sharing your images online, you don’t want people to know the exact location of where you are.
  • Use comprehensive security on all your device Enjoy a safe online experience no matter what you do or where you are. McAfee LiveSafe™ service protects all your PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets and can help you secure your data and keep your identity private with its many different features, including a secure data vault, password manager, and protection from phishing scams and malware.

So…really, please, come on now, can we all just tone it down a notch? And one more thing: Please protect your devices—I mean ALL your devices.

Follow @McAfeeConsumer for live online safety updates and tips and use hashtag #BabyBoomers to join the discussion on Twitter or like McAfee on Facebook.

Robert Siciliano is an Online Security Expert to McAfee. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked!  Disclosures.