Data Breaches Put Your Identity In Jeopardy
In today’s high-tech world, data breaches have become major and, disturbingly, routine occurrences. From financial information to medical data, just about every area of your life could be impacted by a data breach. While some data breaches don’t include sensitive information, many do. That sensitive information can be used to commit identity theft, which in turn can lead to major legal and financial headaches for victims.
Given the fact that billions of people have been impacted by a data breach (many without even realizing it), it is important to understand what data breaches are, how they lead to identity theft, and how they can be prevented.
What is a Data Breach?
In the simplest of terms, a data breach is information getting into the hands of somebody who is not authorized to view that information. While technically a data breach can include any type of information, such as paperwork that is stolen from a safe, for instance, nowadays it is usually used to refer to digital data breaches.
Most data breaches are caused either through poor security, which makes information vulnerable to intentional or unintentional exposure, or through hacking, which can result in even seemingly secure information being exposed to the wrong people.
Many companies, banks, healthcare agencies, organizations, and government agencies store information on their customers and users. It is the responsibility of these bodies to ensure that whatever data they store on their users is kept secure. Unfortunately, even the most seemingly secure of places can fall victim to data breaches.
For example, in 2017 Equifax, one of the world’s largest credit reporting bureaus became the victim of poor security. More than 200,000 of its customers’ credit card information was exposed and 143 million customers had their personal data, including Social Security Numbers, compromised.
What Information is Leaked from Data Breaches?
These agencies and companies can keep various types of information. As the Equifax breach shows, some of the worst data breaches concern financial matters. Indeed, financial information is what many hackers are after as credit card details can be used to make fraudulent purchases. Some data, such as Social Security Numbers and personal information, can be used to create fraudulent credit and bank accounts, which can then be used to make other fraudulent purchases.
However, not all data breaches concern financial information. Medical records are becoming increasingly digitized and these records are targets for hackers. Employment records are also being targeted. In fact, one of the biggest data breaches ever suffered by the U.S. government happened in 2015 when the Office of Personnel Management lost 22.1 million records of current and former employees to theft and hackers.
Some data can also be highly sensitive and embarrassing. One of the most notorious data breaches happened in 2015 when hackers stole the data of 37 million users of Ashley Madison, a dating site for people looking for extramarital affairs. The release of the data was eventually tied to a number of suicides.
How a Data Breach Causes Identity Theft
Data breaches offer a treasure trove of information for identity thieves and the data stolen during such breaches is often sold on the black market. This data is so valuable because it can be used to carry out a number of actions in another person’s name. Some identity theft actions are pretty straightforward. For example, by stealing a person’s credit card information, thieves can then make purchases in that person’s name.
However, identity thieves don’t need financial details specifically in order to wreck financial havoc on victims. Social Security Numbers are especially valuable for identity thieves. With a Social Security Number and a few other pieces of personal information, thieves can open various accounts in another person’s name, including credit cards, bank accounts, utility accounts, cell phone accounts, and more. Children are especially targeted for this type of identity theft because they typically have few accounts in their name already.
How to Prevent Data Breaches and Identity Theft
Unfortunately, there is no surefire way to prevent data theft. Because so many different companies and agencies likely store data on you, it only takes a breach at one of those companies for your data to be exposed. Chances are, you have already been affected by a data breach without realizing it. That’s because such breaches are getting bigger and bigger. The biggest breach of all time, for example, was against Yahoo! and affected an astonishing 3 billion users.
What you can do, however, is to protect yourself from the harm that a data breach can cause. This includes regularly checking your public record, such as criminal reports and employment history, and credit files. Sites like SearchQuarry.com can help you research your records online. By doing this, you will be able to spot any suspicious activity that may be happening in your name and without your consent. The earlier you know about identity thieves trying to commit illegal acts using your data, the sooner you can put a stop to them.