For years, security experts have been fearing “The Big One.” Not terrorist incidents, bombs, or hurricanes—their warnings have been centered on cyberattacks. And now, one of the largest and potentially most damaging data breaches ever has occurred, at the credit-reporting company Equifax. The company revealed that personal information from about 143 million consumers—possibly including Social Security numbers, addresses, and even credit card numbers—was stolen. The scale of this breach is hard to overestimate. It could ultimately affect more than half of the adult population of the United States.
So what will that impact be, and how might all of that illegally obtained personal info be misused? The short answer is that no one knows—yet. But the theft has all sorts of repercussions for those trying to get a new credit card, pass a security check for a new job—or, most devastating of all, get a mortgage. And with people’s information floating around, perhaps even being sold at this very moment on the dark web, those repercussions could haunt them for years, possibly decades.