In today’s digital age, the term “data breach” is one that we hear often. Though the term is one that is most commonly associated with big companies, data breaches can also happen to anyone, whether or not they have a business.
Data breaches are a break of trust. A data breach means that an individual or company experiences exposure of private documents through a third, unauthorized party. Though they can happen accidentally, more often than not, they are an intentional attack against an organization.
Why do data breaches happen? Because hackers have an unwarranted need for private information, such as access to bank accounts and social security numbers, so that they can attempt to steal everything you’ve worked so hard for.
Essentially, data breaches are a cybercriminal attack and the hackers behind it do it so that they can benefit and profit at your expense.
If you’ve read anything about the data breaches that have happened recently at big companies, you might think to yourself that they won’t affect you and it doesn’t really have anything to do with you.
However, data breaches at big companies affect the public, even if you’ve never worked there. We all have a lot of information available online, probably more than we think. It is quite possible that hackers could have exposed your private information during a big data breach.
So, what now?
Here’s everything you need to know about how to handle it and the best ways to protect yourself in the future.
What Is a Data Breach?
A data breach is a security incident in which an unauthorized third party, like a hacker, exposes and steals confidential information and exposes to the Internet, making it available for dangerous individuals to use the information and create potential financial loss for the individual or company.
This type of cyber-crime has the power to not only expose things like credit card numbers, passwords, and email addresses but can also create financial loss and damage reputations that companies or individuals have worked so hard to build.
Keep in mind that data breaches are not the same as identity theft, an act in which someone steals your identity, pretends to be you, and uses your credit score, for example, to buy a house.
A data breach is different because it deals more with the exposure of data, not with the act of someone using the information to pose as you. The hackers involved in data breaches steal information to attack a company or organization.
How Do Data Breaches Happen?
You would think that security measures should be enough to keep hackers away, but sadly, that is not the case. Data breaches can happen any time; they’re just like getting a cold.
Even when you have security protocols in place and are sure that files are confidential enough to be unbreakable by outside sources, you still run a high risk of a data breach happening.
Though it’s easy to want to blame one particular person or group for the data breach, there are actually many reasons (a lot of them accidental) for which data breaches happen.
Something as inconsequential as a weak password can derail your entire security system in the blink of an eye. Sometimes data breaches happen because of a security glitch or a lack of a certain security measure.
The top reasons for data breaches are:
- Malware – this is a type of virus that is popular among hackers because it can be manipulated so that anti-virus software does not detect it. Malware allow hackers to access confidential databases from companies and view customer information such as credit cards or bank account numbers.
- Physical Theft – devices are the most susceptible to theft and, unfortunately, the ones that always contain the most private information. Whenever a hard drive, computer, or cell phone is stolen, any confidential information on it will be exposed to the person who stole it. This is one way that data breaches happen often despite the security protocols an organization might have in place.
- Human Fault – mistakes happen and everyone can make them. Data breaches can sometimes happen because of human error, like using weak passwords or accidentally leaking information that was private. It’s important for companies to always train employees properly about security measures so that simple errors can be minimized and help prevent accidental data breaches.
Common Signs You’ve Been Affected by a Data Breach
If you’re suspecting that there’s a data breach in your system, these are some signs you should watch out for.
- Slow Internet
While experiencing slow Internet connections could be because of an outage or internal issues with connectivity, slow Internet can sometimes indicate that there’s been a breach in the company files. Slow Internet can indicate a malware or virus that’s trying to make the access easier for hackers to view confidential data. If the Internet is slow, it’s worth taking the time to make sure that it’s not a symptom of a data breach.
- Locked User Accounts
Unless computer or account passwords changed and you forgot to save the new ones, if a particular device or account is locked, it’s likely that someone hacked into the system. There are normally a series of valid credentials put in place when company employees have access to extremely sensitive information. If those credentials are not working to let you in, it’s possible that an unauthorized third party has already accessed them and locked you out of the account.
- Abnormal Administrative Activity
When companies or organizations are dealing with extremely privileged information, the employees that have access to it make sure that the information stays private. When there is an abnormal activity in confidential accounts or files, such as odd logins by unrecognized users, unauthorized transactions, or unusual permission changes, that have not been made by allowed personnel, then chances are the system has been compromised.
This is one of the many areas that IT departments usually keep an eye out for because it signals the definite presence of a third party that is trying to view and expose private account information through the Internet. It’s crucial to have protocols set in place that restrict the changes allowed personnel can make so that the system is more secure.
Best Ways to Better Protect Personal Data
Even if you feel you’re doing the best you can to protect personal data, whether in a company or at home, remember that there’s always a chance someone can still view it and steal it to damage your reputation or to simply create a financial loss in your pocket.
In order to avoid data breaches from happening, there are simple guidelines you can follow in both your home and at work.
- Shred Important Documents
This will prevent anyone else from seeing account information, bank account numbers, social security numbers, or anything else of importance in your life.
- Only Share Social Security Number When It’s necessary
A lot of websites and companies ask their users to share social security numbers to follow protocol on accounts or to have the information as self-identification. Just be sure that the company you’re sharing your social security number with is a reputable place that will be cautious with privileged information.
- Create Strong Passwords
It’s a hassle to remember a long, complicated password, but it’s absolutely worth it to have it. Nowadays, devices are making it easier to create strong passwords because they offer suggestions of long and complicated passwords for you so that you don’t have to think of one. If you choose so, your device will save the password so that you don’t have to type it in every time. Consider changing all the passwords to important websites so that your information is more secure and not so easy to break into.
- Regular Check Credit Reports
If your credit score changed recently or there are suspicious accounts reported, it is possible that you’ve been personally affected by a data breach at a big company in which your information was exposed. It’s important to keep up with any changes to your credit score that might signal the use of your information to make big purchases, like a car or a house. These types of thefts happen more often than people think.
- Frequently Monitor Bank Transactions
Although most bank institutions normally alert their users whenever there’s unusual activity in an account, it’s not a bad idea for you to also keep an eye out for anything suspicious. Because banks are some of the most targeted places for data breaches, it’s important to always look at your personal bank accounts and make sure that there’s nothing that might signal a threat to your finances.
Data breaches are not slowing down and they continue to happen, no matter how many security measures are taken. The best you can do is to do your best to deal with the damage after they happen and to continuously update security protocols to protect confidential information as much as possible.