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Sen. Warren grills Equifax ex-CEO, saying hack was good for business

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts grilled Richard Smith, ex-CEO of Equifax, about the company's business, which benefits when consumers buy credit monitoring services.
  • The data breach affected the personal identifying information of 145.5 million people.

The former CEO of Equifax returned to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, this time facing tough questioning from members of the Senate Banking Committee about the massive data breach the company disclosed last month.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts peppered Richard Smith with questions about the company's business, which benefits when consumers buy credit protection and monitoring services, something that tends to happen when they fear their personal information has been compromised.

"This breach has created more business opportunities," she said, after quoting Smith from a recent speech in which he said fraud was a huge opportunity for the company.

"Equifax didn't have a reason to care" about protecting the data, she said.

In the hearing, Smith said "one of the greatest risks we face every day is cybersecurity."

The data breach compromised personal identifying information for more than 145 million people. Smith's prepared remarks were similar to those written for his appearance before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday, where he claimed "full responsibility."

Richard Smith, former chairman and CEO of Equifax, Inc., greets Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) prior to testifying before the U.S. Senate Banking Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2017.
Aaron P. Bernstein | Reuters
Richard Smith, former chairman and CEO of Equifax, Inc., greets Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) prior to testifying before the U.S. Senate Banking Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2017.

The hearing drew a silent protester dressed like the Monopoly man character, who sat in the audience behind Smith but in the range of the video camera. She was there to protest forced arbitration, a spokesman for Americans for Financial Reform said. Equifax's initial offer of free credit monitoring after the hack would have made consumers accept arbitration to settle disputes with the company, something Smith has said was a mistake and has since been removed.

On Wednesday afternoon, Smith is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Smith said Tuesday that the company wasn't aware of the scope of the problem until several weeks after first discovering suspicious activity on its system in late July. He admitted the company failed to fix a software glitch that had been identified publicly in early March that the hackers used to gain entry into Equifax's system.