Sensitive personal data of 143 million US customers of credit report giant Equifax have been compromised by cyber criminals in one of the biggest data hacks in US history.
Although consumer and commercial credit databases were not affected, the company said hackers accessed social security numbers, birth dates and addresses between mid-May and July 2017. In addition, the credit card numbers of about 209,000 consumers were affected.
Chairman and chief executive Richard F Smith said, according to Associated Press: "I apologise to consumers and our business customers for the concern and frustration this causes,"
"We pride ourselves on being a leader in managing and protecting data, and we are conducting a thorough review of our overall security operations."
Criminals can use the information to hijack people's identities and carry out fraudulent activities which can affect customers' chances of being assessed as suitable for leases and loans.
Gartner security analyst Avivah Litan told the Guardian: "On a scale of one to 10, this is a 10 in terms of potential identity theft. Credit bureaus keep so much data about us that affects almost everything we do."
Three Equifax senior executives sold shares in the company worth almost $1.8m (£1,4m) after discovering the breach, but before the public was notified. Since the public announcement, the company's share price dropped by more than 13%.
While it was one of the largest breaches in the US, Yahoo dealt with a breach of around one billion user accounts, while in 2014, some 145m eBay accounts were hit.