Yahoo announces hack, exposure of usernames and passwords
February 11, 2014

Some of the largest technology firms in the world have fallen victim to major instances of data exposure in the past few months, including Google, Facebook and Twitter. Failure to protect against privacy issues has been a running problem for virtually all organizations, regardless of size or industry, especially considering the controversies that took place in the past year.

For one, the National Security Agency's PRISM Surveillance program was exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, which led many companies that manage client data to completely rethink the ways that they protect information. More firms are now turning to multi-factor authentication and more advanced identity management solutions to offset the myriad risks facing modern data storage environments. 

Although the aforementioned technology firms have already started to bounce back from the breaches they experienced, a new event has some experts concerned about the future of data protection practices. Now, Yahoo has become the most recent victim of a significant breach, as the firm's officials announced today that usernames and passwords of certain users have been stolen, according to The Associated Press.

How big was this one?
The AP stated that Yahoo has yet to determine just how many users will be impacted by this breach, and is still somewhat in the dark with respect to the potential damages each affected account might accrue. One thing is for sure, though, and that is Yahoo has the second highest number of users out of any email account service in the world. 

According to the source, one study from comScore revealed that Yahoo mail accounts number 281 million worldwide, with just under a quarter of those users residing in the United States and many others throughout North America. Thanks to more progressive data breach notification legislation, the firm had to alert its users to the breach before any real details had surfaced.

The point of these laws is to protect consumers, as well as businesses, from long-term fraud and theft. As recently as a few years ago, companies were not obligated to disclose the breach to customers until long after they had discovered the data exposure had occurred. 

As the AP noted, Yahoo's officials seem confident that the hackers only sought to steal email addresses and the names attached to the accounts, with no other information appearing to be at risk at present. However, identity thieves do not need a lot of information to cause a substantial amount of damage, and sometimes simple credentials are enough to spread malware and viruses throughout an entire ecosystem of computers. 

Security experts are now pointing toward the potential for hackers to use the credentials they stole for the Yahoo accounts in a broader fashion. For example, the news provider stated that many individuals will use the same passwords and usernames for a variety of websites and accounts, meaning that the exposure of one could lead to the exploitation of all. 

Wheels keep turning
Within the past several months, Target, SnapChat, Neiman Marcus, Michaels Stores and countless other firms have fallen victim to security breaches. Reuters reported that this Yahoo breach was clearly carried out by a group of cybercriminals, which serves as an important reminder to business leaders that hackers are more commonly working together to infiltrate more complex security systems. 

Another disconcerting aspect of this breach is the fact that Yahoo essentially guaranteed to protect its users' personal information from all external sources, including the NSA and foreign cybercriminal groups. The road to optimal privacy protection is filled with obstacles and never truly ends, but organizations that use more advanced measures to deter breaches, such as multi-factor authentication, are often far more successful in their pursuits of security.