There is a good chance you’ve never heard of the major marketing and data aggregation company Exactis, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know you. In fact, Exactis may know a great deal of your personal information, including your email address, your home address, your habits and hobbies, your children’s ages and genders if you have any, and more. Even more alarming, if Exactis does have that information, so too may a hacker who discovered it leaked publicly on the internet. Marketwatch explores the breach and what it means for nearly every American involved.
Security researcher Vinny Troia discovered the breach in June, alleging that Exactis leaked the data of nearly 340 million individuals by storing the records on a publicly accessible server. According to Wired, nearly two terabytes of data have been exposed in the alleged breach.
On Friday, a class action lawsuit was filed against Exactis by national law firm Morgan & Morgan. The lawsuit sets out to help individuals whose data was exposed in the breach by recovering monetary damages and other relief.
Exactis has not yet responded to the breach allegations leaving many questions unanswered. At this time, it is uncertain if the exposed data was accessed by hackers. According to Troia’s findings, gaining access to the data would have been a simple task. An exact number of affected individuals has yet to be determined.
Who is Exactis?
Exactis is a privately held Palm Coast, Fl based company with additional corporate offices in California and New York. The company was founded in 2015 and is a leader in compiling and aggregating both business and consumer data and stores approximately 3.5 billion records, which are updated monthly.
With data collection records in the billions, you may expect Exactis to have a large staff, however, according to the company’s LinkedIn profile they have just 10 employees.
How does Exactis have my information?
Exactis gets information on users through cookies, small packets of data sent out by a website when a user visits it and stored in that user’s data, according to Mark Weinstein, privacy expert and founder of social media site MeWe.”
Cookies are used to track a user’s movement on a website and are used to paint a better picture of a user’s browsing habits. Cookies can also sync together to communicate your data, which for example, may allow something you were viewing on your smartphone to appear in an ad on a social media site.
What does the Exactis breach mean for me?
Although there is no proof that any hackers maliciously accessed the information exposed by Exactis, the possibility certainly exists, and precautions should be taken by consumers. While no social security numbers or credit card information is believed to have been exposed by the breach, the magnitude and detail of personal information left uncovered could allow cybercriminals easy access to valuable information.
Hackers often spend a great deal of time learning about an individual’s life and interests to create the perfect scam through a social engineering attack. The information exposed by the Exactis database contains a wide variety of a user’s browsing history, making it simple for a hacker to construct seemingly legitimate scams without having to put in any real work.
- Phishing Scams – In a phishing scam, cybercriminals send an email that appears to be from a legitimate source requesting you to provide sensitive information. Typically, the email contains a malicious link that when clicked, takes the victim to a fake website where their information is tracked and stolen by the criminal.
With the information exposed in the Exactis breach, the cybercriminal no longer needs to do much research to find the best and easiest way to trick you. Using your exposed information, criminals can create spear-phishing attacks that appear to come from a recipient you might expect to hear from based on your online browsing habits.
- Social Media Scams – Using your likes and interests, cybercriminals can also create various forms of social media scams to trick you into giving up more information, including your credit card information, your social security number, and more. Cybercriminals will often create fake profiles depicting a person you might perceive as trustworthy with the same interests and potentially affiliations as you. By getting you to accept them as their friend on social media, they can further gather information about you, potentially to use in a phishing or other scam attempt.
Social media ad scams and malicious links in timeline posts are also common forms of attack by cybercriminals. Using your browsing habits, criminals can create fake ad campaigns that look real to trick you into purchasing what you may believe to be goods or services that you were recently searching for. By clicking on a fake ad or link with malicious intent, you will further open the door for a hacker to steal your information.
- Phone Scams – Potentially the oldest scam in the book but one that is still commonly used today is a phone scam. Phone scams can take many shapes ranging from a person calling to tell you you’ve won a giveaway, to a person calling claiming to be a friend or grandchild in trouble and in need of money. While phone scams can be broad and have no specific information on you besides your phone number, criminals who do have some background on your interests can target you in a much more direct and convincing way.
Precautions you can take following the Exactis breach
Since there is a good chance your personal information may have been exposed by Exactis, below are some precautions you can take to help you protect yourself.
- Monitor your social media accounts
- Monitor your bank accounts
- Monitor your credit report
- Be on high-alert for stolen funds
- If you are a victim of identity theft, create an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission
- Place fraud alert or a security freeze on your credit
- File tax returns as early as possible
- Contact the Social Security Administration for a copy of your wage-earning report to verify no fraudulent activity has occurred using your Social Security number
- Contact your health insurance provider to ensure no fraudulent medical claims have been filed
How to Reduce Tracking
Use privacy plug-ins to reduce the amount of data that is being collected on you when browsing the web. Privacy plug-ins such as “Privacy Badger” do not allow consumers to be tracked without their permission and are a great way to ensure the sharing of your information is controlled by you.
You can also check your browser “settings” for a “Do Not Track” request feature that can be used with browsing traffic.