Feb. 23--In some cases, consumers are only as strong as a company's security vulnerability.
For instance, experts say that once Target Corp.'s payment card system's security is breached, consumers, like the 40 million whose credit and debit card information were stolen from hackers, are vulnerable.
"If someone can access their firewalls, you changing your password every three months isn't going to help," said Robert Hill, marketing and business law professor at Villanova University School of Business.
Last month, Neiman Marcus revealed that about 1.1 million customer credit and debit cards may have been hacked by malicious software after malware was secretly installed on the department store operator's system. Hill said he expects hackings similar to those at Target and Neiman Marcus to continue as companies invest in ways to avoid them, and savvy hackers figure out the next way to breach the security system.
Gerald Santoro, professor at Penn State University, State College, said companies' security systems are not all the same, and if a vulnerability does not receive attention, a data breach can occur, and in the case of Target, consumers are helpless.
To address the ongoing breaches, the Obama administration recommended a uniform federal standard requiring businesses to quickly report thefts of electronic personal information.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General's office didn't directly state whether it supported such a law, but Attorney General Kathleen Kane believes it's important that businesses promptly inform consumers of data breaches affecting consumers' information.
"Our Bureau of Consumer Protection has been working actively and collaboratively with other states to ensure Target and other retailers comply with both the letter and spirit of consumer protection laws," spokesman J.J. Abbott said in an email. "Additionally, our attorneys are currently reviewing pending federal legislation to further protect consumers."
In the meantime, Santoro said, consumers can make themselves less vulnerable by shopping wisely online and being aware of whom they're giving their personal information to and for what purpose.
"At some point, there's not a whole lot that you can do, but you can try and reduce the vulnerability of your information," Santoro said.
Contact Amy Friedenberger: 610-371-5066 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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