In a “60 Minutes” interview, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey bluntly answered questions about cybersecurity threats to the U.S. and its citizens. Perhaps his most shocking statement came on the topic of foreigners’ attempts at breaking digital security barriers: “I mean, there are two kinds of big companies in the United States. There are those who’ve been hacked by the Chinese and those who don’t know they’ve been hacked by the Chinese,” Comey said, according to an interview transcript.
He didn’t go into details about other countries and groups assaulting U.S. entities via the Internet but said China is at the top of the list. They’re not particularly sophisticated in their attack strategy, Comey said, but they’re productively persistent.
“I liken them a bit to a drunk burglar. They’re kicking in the front door, knocking over the vase, while they’re walking out with your television set,” Comey said of the Chinese. “They’re just prolific. Their strategy seems to be: We’ll just be everywhere all the time. And there’s no way they can stop us.”
He had another analogy on cybersecurity for the American people (though not quite as entertaining as the Chinese-as-drunken-burglars imagery):
“When someone sends you an email, they are knocking on your door. And when you open the attachment, without looking through the peephole to see who it is, you just opened the door and let a stranger into your life, where everything you care about is,” Comey said.
Cyberattacks on U.S. companies cost the economy billions of dollars annually, Comey said, and while the government and business work to improve their attack-prevention and response strategies, consumers should prioritize efforts to protect themselves from hackers and identity thieves.
It’s always smart to use strong passwords (here are some tips on that practice) and to update them often, but it’s also crucial to monitor your accounts — financial and otherwise — for unauthorized activity. Open emails and attachments with caution, because that account serves as the master key to many other accounts, and a compromised email address could make a mess of your identity and finances. In addition to checking your bank account activity on a daily basis, you should review your free annual credit reports and regularly look at your credit scores. You can get two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com.
More on Identity Theft:
- Identity Theft: What You Need to Know
- 3 Dumb Things You Can Do With Email
- How Can You Tell If Your Identity Has Been Stolen?