What are Data Breaches & How Can You Protect Your Identity?

With technology speedily advancing day by day, widening the door of convenience, the internet has fast-become part of our daily lives. However, while cyber security frequently improves and public awareness of online safety grows, the internet retains its dark side. Cyber criminals are out there, preying on billions of internet users by planting traps and exploiting system vulnerabilities.

And the endgame for these online fraudsters is, of course, the data breach. This internet-age phenomenon is a chief concern for just about every type of internet user, whether they’re business personnel, a consumer, social media bee or casual surfer. But why exactly are these ghostly, anonymous figures lurking in the recesses of the internet so compelled to steal our data?

To hackers, your name, address, age, social security number and credit card number, account logins, among other data, is profoundly powerful information – because it uniquely identifies you as YOU. We’re talking hacker gold. Businesses and organizations regard user data as strictly confidential for very good reason, and go to great lengths to safeguard it from prying eyes.

In malicious hands, our data can be exploited in a variety of ways, with fraudsters capable of causing victims significant life disruption, stress, anxiety and financial loss. Usually hackers hope to deepen their pockets, and this becomes a whole lot easier once they’ve breached your data. For instance, they could steal your money (via online banking or a ‘ransomware’ attack), your identity, or sell your data to the highest bidder on the dark web.

But how do hackers obtain our sensitive data in the first place? Since a user will naturally avoid handing their data over to an unsavoury source, it won’t come as a shock to know that data breaches usually occur after a user makes a simple – yet potentially costly – mistake/oversight. There are a few common ways this can happen.

Cyber criminals, like ‘real life’ thieves, are often seeking a quick and easy way in. Hackers target system vulnerabilities – found in outdated computer software and operating systems – in order to plant malware and craftily pinch data. Easy-to-guess passwords are warmly received by hackers, with ‘phishing’ – which dupes users into visiting phony websites and opening malicious attachments – being a particularly deceptive tactic.

So yeah, all that personally identifiable data we share on the internet is certainly worth protecting. With ignorance and carefree-clicking no longer an option as we buy, sell, socialise and surf, it makes perfect sense to tread with a reasonable amount of caution online at all times, with ‘prevention’ at the forefront of our minds. But what are the things we can do to stay safer?

Starting with the fundamentals, it’s absolutely essential to create secure, strong, varied passwords to keep accounts safe. Protecting yourself with a reputable antivirus and malware suite across your devices, coupled with frequent backups of your files (to the cloud or storage devices) is also a high priority. Furthermore, should you decide to sell/scrap a device, you should hard format it of all data.

When online, be aware of websites that aren’t protected by SSL encryption (‘http’ vs ‘https’). While this isn’t always an issue during general surfing, you should never make transactions on an unsecure ‘http’ shopping page. Additionally, it’s best to not share sensitive/overtly identifiable information/photos on social media, such as vacation announcements and snaps during a break.

They say being behind the wheel of a car is a dangerous place to be. The same applies to the internet. So be smart. And be safe.