- Am I At Risk For Being A Victim Of A Data Breach?
- Ways To Protect Against A Data Breach
- Notorious Data Breaches
- How Can I Check On My Personal Information?
A data breach (or data leak) is a security infringement in which information is taken or accessed by an unauthorized third party. They’re seriously damaging to both the companies and the consumers. Not only are they expensive to recover from, but often the information stolen can damage lives.
Data breaches occur most often with big companies that keep a lot of sensitive user information on file. Even if a company has high-quality information security, hackers are capable of cracking through layers of protection to expose large amounts of information. Names, phone numbers, email addresses, birthdays, Social Security numbers, online account logins, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and more are all able to be exposed in data breaches.
Your personal computer can also be exposed to a data breach, although the term is less frequently used for personal attacks. Malware, viruses, and broken links are all tactics used by hackers to steal your information.
Am I At Risk For Being A Victim Of A Data Breach?
The simple answer? Yes.
In a perfect world, if you kept yourself off of social media, revealed nothing on the Internet, and kept your files under lock and key, you would never have to worry about having your personal data exposed in a data breach. But this isn’t the world we live in.
Even if you take every security precaution to protect your online accounts — which you still should do — you’re not in the clear. Financial institutions, medical facilities, tax documents, and job applications all require that you submit not only your name, date of birth, and private contact information, but also your Social Security number.
There’s no way to exist in the United States without giving your Social Security number out to at least a few places. Even though every application, portal, or person you submit it to should be incredibly secure, it’s out there, and data breaches can happen anywhere.
But don’t let that discourage you completely; there are security measures that you can take to better protect yourself and your personal information. Although even if nothing is guaranteed. Read the next section and follow those tips to help limit your chances of becoming victim to a data breach.
Ways To Protect Against A Data Breach
1. Limit who you give your private information to.
As mentioned above, there are many reputable sources that require you to submit a Social Security number, driver’s license information, or payment card, so this can be difficult.
However, be aware that a company may ask for information and still not require that you submit it all. Many medical offices request your Social Security number. But if you don’t put it on the forms, they don’t press the issue. Always ask the company or person you’re giving it to if the information is absolutely necessary.
You can also be selective in which credit cards you apply for. Most credit checks require your social security number, which is valid. But don't apply for credit cards at every store that offers one. This distributes your information, and if history is any indication, chain stores like Target or Best Buy are at greater risk for security incidents that expose your information than your bank is.
2. Be smart about using your information online and offline.
Your data can be stolen through reliable institutions. But you can save yourself from unnecessary risk by making sure every company you give it to is legitimate. Also, don’t enter personal data onto forms online that aren’t secure.
Always make sure a website has the secure lock symbol in the upper left corner of the address bar. If a website says “not secure” or shows an open lock, absolutely do not input your information.
3. Don’t use weak passwords.
Always create strong passwords to keep your individual accounts secure. While this can’t stop a data breach from happening, in data leaks that only expose your account username and password, it can stop more information from being stolen.
For example, even if you use separate logins, but weak passwords, someone who has your basic ID information could successfully hack into other accounts. Keep everything separate. Don't let a smaller data breach create a domino effect.
4. Don't use the same password across multiple sites.
In a similar sense, if you use the same username and password for your Target account as you do for your S&T Bank login, a data breach on Target’s website will also put your bank accounts at risk. It's tempting to create one strong password and use it across different accounts, but this is dangerous. Try using a password manager to create and manage unique passwords across all of your online accounts.
Notorious Data Breaches
- Yahoo, in August 2013, had over three billion accounts exposed in a data breach. They successfully stole user account information, but users’ financial information wasn’t compromised.
- LinkedIn, in June 2021, found data from 700 million of its users posted on the dark web. A hacker was able to steal data from the site, including email addresses, phone numbers, social media handles, and geolocation data, affecting over 90% of the company’s user base.
- Facebook, in April 2019, had two datasets from the Facebook app exposed, affecting 533 million users. Users’ account names, Facebook IDs, and phone numbers were exposed on the dark web.
- Target, in November 2013, saw hackers gain access to their computer operating system, which exposed the full names, phone numbers, email addresses, payment card numbers, and credit card codes of 41 million customers.
- Equifax, in September 2017, suffered a data breach that exposed the personal information of 147 million users. This breach was one of the worst for users: names, home addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, Social Security numbers, and driver’s license numbers were all stolen.
How Can I Check On My Personal Information?
There are a couple of different ways for you to check on your personal information. It depends on what information you’re concerned about.
For checking other information, Norton’s premium LifeLock gives you alerts if they find your Social Security number, medical or driver’s license numbers, bank account information, credit card numbers, or insurance policies associated with someone that isn’t you or located on the dark web.
Again, neither Norton nor WhatIsMyIP.com can prevent your personal information from being stolen. But they can let you know if it’s being used. Whether it was exposed in malware attacks, social engineering attacks, or data breaches, having the knowledge is always better than having nothing.
WhatIsMyIP.com has provided this tool courtesy of haveibeenpwned.com