As one of the fifteen million people who applied for T-Mobile USA’s post-paid services during that period, I was particularly aghast to learn about this breach. T-Mobile USA has, in the past two and a half years, been selling itself as an “uncarrier,” dedicated to upending the telecom industry’s status quo by offering simpler, cheaper, and more intelligible plans. I’d bought into this spin, and believed that it was the way forward for the industry.
Although no financial information was stolen in the T-Mobile breach, the completeness of the data that was acquired is akin to a Lego set for an identity thief. The fraudsters can set up new lines of credit or file for phony tax refunds in our names, and there isn’t much we can do about it.
Cybersecurity consultant Bryan Seely told the Seattle Times that, on a scale of one to ten, this breach rates a seven, because it included fifteen million Social Security numbers, along with names and addresses. “When Target had a breach, people were reissued cards. You can’t reissue Socials that easily,” he said. Over the weekend, the e-commerce security firm Trustev claimed that it had found data sets from the Experian hack for sale on the dark Web.
In his note, Legere directed customers to sign up for two years of free credit monitoring and “identity resolution” from a service owned by Experian—which had done such a stellar job of protecting our data in the first place. (Following a social-media outcry, which I participated in, Experian began to offer other options.)
The unauthorized access was in an isolated incident over a limited period of time. It included access to a server that contained personal information for consumers who applied for T-Mobile USA postpaid services or products, which require a credit check, from Sept. 1, 2013 through Sept. 16, 2015. Records containing a name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, identification number (typically a driver’s license, military ID, or passport number) and additional information used in T-Mobile’s own credit assessment were accessed. No payment card or banking information was obtained.