As government services become increasingly digitized, the risks of cyber-attacks and hacking likewise increase. Government digital databases face the same risk as their private sector counterparts, with criminal elements seeking to capitalize on stolen data. This risk became reality today in the United States as hackers stole the tax information of some 100,000 individuals from an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax filing program.
Similar breaches have occurred, at times involved many more victims; however, today’s events are still concerning. According to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, the data breach was not the work of amateurs, but rather organized crime syndicates. The data stolen has value not only because of the personal information involved (including Social Security number, date of birth, tax filing status and street address,) but also because it allows fraudsters to falsely claim tax refunds.
The IRS has determined that around $50 million had been successfully claimed by the criminals. Taxpayers whose information was stolen, will be contacted by the IRS as part of the organization’s response to the hacking. In light of this breach, it is currently unknown whether the IRS will continue to operate its online tax filing service “Get Transcript”. Moreover, the IRS has not stated whether it will be modifying the program to deal with security loopholes. Such attacks on digital archives increase public apprehension about the increasing use of digital over physical record keeping.