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Hacker steals vital information of South Carolina taxpayers

Computer hackers recently obtained 3.6 million Social Security numbers and over 350,000 credit card numbers from the South Carolina Department of Revenue. Authorities say that it was a follow-up of a similar crime in August when the hackers hacked into the state's computer system in Columbia to see what information was stored by the South Carolina Department of Revenue. All but 16,000 of the credit card numbers stolen were encrypted, though it is unknown whether the hackers have the means to break the encryptions. Officials have said that most of the unencrypted numbers are too old to be of use. The Social Security numbers were not encrypted.

Even compared to other recent large-scale internet crimes in the state, this latest event is a major data breach. It has prompted state and federal authorities to begin a review of the entire state computer information infrastructure. To help address potential identity theft, the government has said it will pay for credit protection for those who are affected. The price of this will ultimately come from taxpayers.

The government said that the August incident was a test run for this current data theft, and that it was followed by three more smaller-scale test attacks on government systems in September and October. It is unclear whether the government could have taken any additional precautions to protect state taxpayers in this most recent event.

This Department of Revenue cybercrime attack took place in early October, but the public was not informed until later in the month. When asked why they did not alert the public sooner, authorities claimed that it had been more appropriate to wait until the investigation had sufficiently progressed. What that means is a mystery, as state law enforcement and Secret Service officials are still withholding most of the investigation's details.

While cybercrime may seem like a victimless form of crime, this case illustrates just how many people can become potential victims. Accordingly, state and federal agencies aggressively prosecute violators. As a result, anyone who is charged with cybercrime should immediately begin mounting an equally strenuous defense.

Source: USA Today, "Hacker swipes 3.6 million Social Security numbers, other data," Amy Clarke Burns, Oct. 26, 2012

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