How Do Data Breaches Occur and How Can I Prevent Them?

How Do Data Breaches Occur and How Can I Prevent Them?

With the dawn of online communication rising to prominence in the last 20 years, personal data is being shared via the internet more than ever before. This personal data can include everything from social media usernames and passwords to more important information such as social security numbers and bank account details. With this influx of personal information being shared online every day, data breaches are an unfortunate but inevitable reality. A data breach is defined as the theft of information from a data source that exposes some form of confidential or protected information. Data breaches can occur in a number of different ways.

The first way is in the case of an accident or error on the part of an employee who is in charge of maintaining the privacy of personal information as a part of their job functions. For example, an employee who misplaces a thumb drive or sends an email containing personal information to the wrong recipient. Conversely, data breaches can also be deliberate actions taken by hackers or criminals looking to pillage personal information for the purposes of identity theft or other forms of illicit or illegal activity. Cyberthieves can employ a variety of means to steal the personal information of consumers. One of the primary means that can be used to steal personal information online is through the use of crimeware.

Crimeware is a form of malware or malicious software and can take on any of the following forms.

In addition to forms of crimeware, cyber thieves can also steal the personal information of everyday consumers in these alternative methods:

What can cyber thieves and criminals do with the information they steal online?

Once a cyber thief has gained access to the personal information of an online consumer, they can go about leveraging it in a number of ways. This can include:

A final way that cyber thieves can go about leveraging the stolen information of consumers is to sell their documents on the dark web. Due to the inherently dangerous nature of the black markets such as the dark web, this can prove particularly disastrous to consumers. To give an example of the kinds of prices that certain forms of personal information can fetch on the dark web, social security numbers can be sold for as little as $1, while credit card numbers and U.S. passports can sell for $110 and $200 respectively.

How can consumers protect themselves from data breaches and cyber-attacks?

While consumers are always advised to keep their personal information safe at all times, the reality of our current society can make this task extremely difficult. From social media websites to point-of-sale transactions for everyday items, consumers exchange some form of personal information nearly every day. While the websites, platforms, and businesses who collect and use this information are also obligated to protect it, this does not always happen. As such, the following steps can be taken to reduce the chances of falling victim to a data breach or cyberattack:

What can consumers do once their personal information has been exposed to a data breach?

While all of the above steps will undoubtedly help consumers avoid having their personal information leaked in data breaches, these breaches are inevitable due to the unregulated nature of the internet. While a data breach will often cause immediate damage to a consumer, there are a variety of steps that can be taken to mitigate or minimize this damage. These steps include:

Data breaches can prove to be a very stressful experience for consumers. As we have placed an increasing level of trust in online technology over the past 20 years, many online hackers and cyber thieves have developed new ways to take advantage of this trust. Just like the pirates and robbers of the past have preyed upon the weak throughout history, cyber-attacks have taken up this same approach in an online context due to the unregulated nature of the internet. As such, it is imperative that consumers take preventative measures and steps to avoid having their information leaked in a data breach. Nevertheless, there are still avenues of recourse should a consumer have their information compromised.

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