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Equifax hack: How bad could it affect Nevada citizens, recovering economy?

Equifax faces new lawsuits and is trying to make new gestures to customers in the wake of its disclosure last week that it exposed vital data like Social Security numbers of about 143 million Americans. (MGN Online)

Here's something to keep you up at night, from local cyber security expert Shannon Wilkinson.

“The potential impact for Nevadans is huge,” she told me.

That's her take on how the Equifax hack will play out here, in a state with an improving economy.

“Of course, we had one of the highest mortgage rates. We have the housing boom here, so lots of loans, lots of mortgages would have been issued for Nevadans here,” Wilkinson says.

Many of those loans needed a credit report from Equifax, one of the big three agencies. Just ask coffeehouse owner Tiffany Stiles, who recently bought a new car.

“My information had to, went through the company. It's pretty alarming I'd say to know that your information is just out there,” Stiles says.

Equifax is now facing the largest class action lawsuit in U.S. history.

On Tuesday, Nevada launched a probe of the breach.

RELATED LINK | Nevada launches its own Equifax probe after massive data breach

“It’s important we launch this investigation to better understand just how compromised Nevadans have been on their personal information,” said Attorney General Adam Laxalt on Tuesday. One reason he did it, he told me, was to find out how many of the 143 million people affected live here.

“It’s half the country, and maybe half the state at least, but that would just be my own personal guess,” says Laxalt.

Nevada’s investigation will most likely join other states in a multi-state effort. Our two U.S. senators have joined a bipartisan call for a federal investigation.

Calls also are growing to switch to a more secure system for safeguarding and sharing data.

“I think that one of the things that we should be looking at is how do we enable better privacy by sharing less information and using more innovative technologies like biometrics and blockchain,” says Valerie Abend, the managing director at Accenture Security. Previously, Abend worked at the U.S. Treasury Department, advising banks on cybersecurity.

Biometrics are things like iris scans and fingerprints. "Blockchain" is a new, more secure way to transmit information over the internet.

“I think that when you layer that biometric, and it may be a thumbprint, it might be iris scans, it might be multiple fingerprints, but when you layer that biometric with other forms of identification, we start to see some improvements in how we share limited amounts of information with us, but still be able to have frictionless transactions,” says Abend.

That’s one way to change the system, experts say. Another is to make companies that guard your information accountable.

“For companies to take security seriously, it looks like it’s going to have to turn toward regulation, and companies are going to have to start facing fines through these types of data breaches,” says Shannon Wilkinson.

She and her husband run Axiom Cyber Solutions, which sells firewalls to businesses large and small. It’s 2½ years old.

“Business is booming,” she told me.

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