Data Breaches: Privacy in the Digital Age
Get the latest in privacy tips and news with Cloaked’s team of tech experts, engineers, and security professionals.
Once upon a time, in the digital stone-age, we were content to navigate our “state of the art” DOS systems without considering the implications of a possible data breach.
In fact, data breaches (as we know them today) weren’t even a thing until 2005, when the DSW Shoe Warehouse experienced a hack that exposed 1.4 million credit card numbers and names associated with the accounts.
Before that, the only major reports of large scale data exposure were limited to targeted individuals or acts of corporate espionage.
Now, there’s a new report of a major (and potentially damaging) data breach every few months — and it seems like we’ve become numb to it.
It’s just status quo for our personal data to be leaked all over the internet, right?
So, your data has been “breached,” but what does this really mean for your digital privacy?
Let’s start by looking at what types of data hackers go after.
Hackers want data that they can profit off of in some way. This can translate into bank access, social security information, addresses, and anything that can be used to verify your identity or manipulate your online behavior.
Once they’ve obtained this information, hackers can then impersonate you online (and sometimes in person) to gain access to new loans, your existing finances, tax refunds, identity (think selling fake identities), credit cards, and even medical information.
In some instances, hackers will use your personal info to attempt to blackmail you or to access and gain control of your devices (yikes).
In reality, we can’t depend on banks, hospitals, online databases, schools, or even the government to keep our data safe. And recovery is often a long and painful process, as evidenced by a 2017 mortgage scam that resulted in a $200k loss for one hopeful couple.
The Bains were attempting to make a real estate transaction through the proper channels. Unfortunately, hackers had gained access to their personal information and were able to send them an email that appeared to be from their real estate broker. The email gave specific instructions for wiring a large sum of money necessary to facilitate the purchase.
Upon receiving these instructions, the couple wired $200k dollars into the hacker’s account.
In this case, the hackers had intercepted a legit email and changed the instructions so they could profit off the transaction. In addition to this debacle, the courts had a difficult time litigating the case to determine who was really at fault — meaning that any financial recovery was lengthy, if possible at all.
Incidents like this happen every day. It could be a weird charge at a big box store 1000 miles away, a suspicious online purchase, or even a large fraudulent purchase that becomes evident when the repo order finally reaches the victim.
Smaller incidents where hackers receive fragments of data are often responsible for larger phishing efforts, online and phone scams, ransomware efforts, and scams targeting friends or family members.
In short, it’s important to be proactive when sharing any personal info over digital channels. Privacy in the digital age should be a human right. However, it’s also a shared responsibility.
How to respond to a data breach…
There are typically two ways that we discover violations to our digital privacy. One being the “usual” emails, texts, or in app notifications that are sent by companies once they discover that the data they were responsible for has been breached.
The other way is through personal discovery, and these breaches can happen much closer to home. Your laptop, phone, or tablet could be stolen or even misplaced. Someone could steal your purse, steal your banking information at the ATM or gas pump, or even break into your personal residence.
In those instances, it’s important to immediately report lost or stolen items to authorities (or management if lost in a store), and to take an inventory of what information someone else may now have access to.
Next, make sure to pause or cancel all credit cards, bank cards, or key cards. Let financial institutions know as soon as possible, and make sure to change locks, access codes, passwords, and phone numbers when appropriate.
For online personal data breaches, there are a number of different ways you can begin to protect yourself as soon as you’re aware that your data has been compromised, including:
- Try to get details on exactly what data has been breached (financial, personal, professional, etc.)
- Change all passwords (password managers can be a huge help here)
- Report the breach to authorities if the company that experienced the leak has not done so
- Enable two factor authentication where possible
- Sign up for credit monitoring alerts
- Cancel or suspend credit cards if necessary
- Freeze credit if there are financial concerns
- Notify anyone else close to you who might be affected
- Check the status of your info using sites like https://haveibeenpwned.com/
- Access https://www.identitytheft.gov/ for additional steps you can take to protect yourself and others
Tips for preventing data breaches and ensuring privacy in the digital age
Data breaches can happen to anyone who has shared anything online. It’s never your fault when they occur, but there are some things you can do to fortify your online identity…
- Begin by understanding the different online threats like phishing, ransomware, social media scams (no, we do NOT want your “government grant”), and malware.
- Refrain from sharing personal info via email, text, or social media messaging unless you’ve verified the sender and the purpose of the information
- Do not click suspicious email or SMS links — ever
- Use anti-virus software to keep your computer and devices protected
- Use a secure password or identity manager
- Change passwords every 4–6 weeks
- Use two-factor authentication whenever possible
- Regularly monitor your credit and online credentials
Educate yourself and stay on top of the most recent online risks being reported in the news, or by your bank, school, or company. While we wish that data breaches weren’t a thing, we can’t ignore the fact that they are occurring with increasing frequency all over the world. Being proactive now can save you a huge headache later!
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