Technology, for its many benefits, creates tremendous opportunities for criminals of all kinds — from everyday thieves who seek to steal consumer goods to illegal enterprises that exploit others' intellectual property. Americans should take note and make sure precautions are taken at every level possible.
The personnel information of every federal employee and millions of former employees was recently stolen by hackers. This is a breath-taking breach of privacy with national security implications.
China may now have the ability to use this information to undermine our activities as well as blackmail individual employees for additional information and access.
This breach may standout in scope, but hackers are constantly attacking our government.
According to the General Accounting Office (GAO), federal agencies reported more than 46,000 cybersecurity incidents in 2012 — eight times more than there were in 2006. In 2012, the GAO concluded that such attacks "have placed sensitive information at risk, with potentially serious impacts on federal and military operation; critical infrastructure; and confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive government, private sector, and personal information," and noted that federal agencies across the board weren't doing enough to deter, detect and address cyber threats.
This latest attack shows that vulnerabilities clearly remain and developing a better strategy must be a priority.
It isn't just government that's vulnerable.
Credit card fraud also remains an enormous problem, costing an estimated $11 billion annually. Consumers aren't just inconvenienced when their cards are illegally hijacked, but the losses that must be absorbed by stores and credit companies ultimately hit consumers in the form of higher prices and fees. Somewhat surprisingly, a reported 65 percent of credit card breaches in the U.S. occur at retail stores, rather than online.
Yet in-store breaches could be reduced immediately by taking advantage of available — and much more secure — point-of-sale Chip and PIN credit card technology. Some big banks and credit card companies are instead issuing chip only cards, which unfortunately don't provide as much protection as when cards are paired with a four digit PIN number.
Countries that have adopted Chip and PIN credit cards as the standard have witnessed a consistent decline in rates of credit card fraud — as much as 70 percent in the UK. The United States lags far behind in the move to Chip and PIN, but if the banks and credit card issuers embrace this change, consumer fraud could be reduced significantly.
More progress is needed, and our business community as well as our government should focus more attention on such security measures. Policymakers ought to recall that this — not providing transfer payments to millions of different groups of Americans, not regulating and micromanaging every aspect of life — is supposed to among be government's core functions. Government was created in large measure to protect property rights and prevent theft.
At the federal level, legislation has been drafted to require the director of national intelligence to report to Congress annually on the countries engaged in and supporting illegal activities, the companies and technologies that have been compromised, and the products and services being sold using stolen information.
The president would be charged with holding offending countries accountable, by blocking the importation of products utilizing stolen information created by state-owned enterprises of priority countries.
Such power could be an important step toward discouraging costly cybercrimes, without giving up the goal of encouraging legitimate international commerce.
Americans need an all-of-the-above strategy to reducing the damage caused by technology-based crime, which means that businesses, governments and all of us need to get involved.
Carrie L. Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women's Forum.