The Equifax breach aftermath could cause all investors to ask tough new questions

The recent massive security breach at credit reporting company Equifax, which could impact 143 million consumers in the U.S., may have wide-reaching implications for investors' attitudes toward cybersecurity in public companies going forward.

The breach was revealed last week along with the revelation that three Equifax officials, including its chief financial officer, sold nearly $2 million of the company's shares in the days after the breach was discovered in late July.

While the company said in a statement that the executives had no knowledge of the attack at the time they sold their shares, questions have been raised around the timing of the sales.

Some of consumers' most important personal information may have been stolen, said Max Wolff, chief economist at Disruptive Technology Advisers, adding that the breach, along with the executives' share sales being revealed in regulatory filings, will impact how investors feel about "cybersecurity, data ... and it's going to unfortunately set some new records in terms of fines and fallout" as well as influence how investors think about corporate governance.

"We watched the company here, in this particular case, spend about two months getting ready to share the information that they had lost this data," as well as the news of executives selling shares before the announcement, Wolff said.

He added: "I think investors are going to ask another basic question when they own or praise the ownership of a public company ... they're going to have to ask what the cyber-vulnerabilities are. And they're going to have to know that there's a good set of policies in place to prevent, and to respond to, these type of attacks."

Wolff said Tuesday on CNBC's "Trading Nation" that he expects further upside for some cybersecurity companies like FireEye and Symantec (parent company of Norton and LifeLock privacy software), which both saw their shares rise after the Equifax breach news.

On Tuesday, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D.-N.D., who sits on the Senate Banking Committee, said at a credit union industry conference in Washington that "somebody needs to go to jail" if in fact Equifax executives were aware of the company's breach at the time of the share sales.

"It's a problem when people can act with impunity with no consequences. How is that not insider trading?" she said.

Shares of Equifax have fallen nearly 18 percent over the course of the past week.


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Trading Nation is a multimedia financial news program that shows investors and traders how to use the news of the day to their advantage. This is where experts from across the financial world – including macro strategists, technical analysts, stock-pickers, and traders who specialize in options, currencies, and fixed income – come together to find the best ways to capitalize on recent developments in the market. Trading Nation: Where headlines become opportunities.

Michael Santoli

Michael Santoli joined CNBC in October 2015 as a Senior Markets Commentator, based at the network's Global Headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.  Santoli brings his extensive markets expertise to CNBC's Business Day programming, with a regular appearance on CNBC's Closing Bell (M-F, 3PM-5PM ET). In addition, he contributes to CNBC and CNBC PRO, writing regular articles and creating original digital videos.

Previously, Santoli was a Senior Columnist at Yahoo Finance, where he wrote analysis and commentary on the stock market, corporate news and the economy. He also appeared on Yahoo Finance video programs, where he offered insights on the most important business stories of the day, and was a regular contributor to CNBC and other networks.

Follow Michael Santoli on Twitter @michaelsantoli

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