JPMorgan Chase BankRecent charges have been filed by the U.S. Attorneys of Atlanta and the Southern District of New York against several people in connection to the hacking of 12 U.S. financial institutions, including JPMorgan Chase, E-Trade Financial and Scottrade. Although initially the reported number of customer accounts exposed in the JPMorgan Chase breach was cited as 76 million, the real number is actually closer to 83 million. In total, across all of the breaches perpetrated at financial institutions and financial news publishers between 2012 and 2015, over 100 million customers’ information was stolen. This scheme, as described by cybersecurity blogger Brian Krebs, was extensive and elaborate, and it was operated through more than 75 shell companies and bank and brokerage accounts around the world set up by the defendants.

What was the primary goal of these attacks?

The U.S. government has called this the largest theft of customer data from a financial institution in the history of the country, and it’s certainly a breach worth paying attention to even if you aren’t an affected customer. JPMorgan Chase customers whose accounts were exposed had information including their names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses stolen. U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara called the hack “securities fraud on steroids.” Overwhelmingly, the intention of the plot was to steal information from those who engage in stock trading in order to use that information to promote stock fraud by sending massive email blasts and falsely inflating stock prices.

Should I be concerned?

Naturally, all consumers should pay attention to the news of breaches like this. Although these hacks were for the purpose of obtaining customer information to further a stock fraud scheme — rather than stealing people’s financial account information or social security numbers — the fact that financial institutions are seeing this kind of attack is an indicator of how much work needs to be done across the board, from retailers and banks to healthcare companies and government agencies, to enhance security and get ahead of cyber criminals. While it’s great news that these particular cybercriminals have been caught, many more are still out there.

Just this past weekend, a hacker group that calls itself Crackas With Attitude, revealed it had broken into an FBI-run law enforcement portal as well as the private email account of FBI Deputy Director Mark Giuliano and accessed the data in both. This is the same group that previously made headlines for hacking CIA Director John Brennan’s personal AOL email account. Despite efforts made by top U.S. law enforcement, thus far these criminals have not been caught, and only time will tell whether they will commit further intrusions before they are apprehended.

What can I do to protect myself?

There are many precautions that the average consumer can take to help protect themselves and their family against the dangers of identity theft. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to completely prevent identity theft, but you can certainly do your best to minimize your risk and deal with it if it does happen. To learn more about protecting your identity, follow our identity theft blog and read through our identity theft protection service reviews to find out whether a service like this would be right for you.