How vulnerable is your personal information? 4 essential reads
When you enter your personal information or credit card number into a website, do you have a moment of hesitation? A nagging sense of vulnerability prompted by the parade of headlines about data breaches and hacks? If so, you probably push those feelings aside and hit the submit button, because, well, you need to shop, apply for that job, file that insurance claim, apply for that loan, or do any of the other sensitive activities that take place online these days.
First, the bad news. If you regularly enter sensitive information online, chances are you’ve had some data stolen somewhere at some point. By one estimate, the average American had data stolen at least four times in 2019. And the hits keep coming. For instance, a data breach at the wireless carrier T-Mobile reported in August 2021 affected 100 million people.
Now for some good news. Not all hacks are the same, and there are steps you can take to protect yourself. The Conversation gathered four articles from our archives that illuminate the types of threats to your online data, what data thieves do with your stolen information, and what you can do about it.
1. Take stock of your risk
Not all cyberattacks are the same, and not all personal data is the same. Was an organization that has your information the victim of a ransomware attack? Chances are your information won’t be stolen, though the organization’s copy of it could be rendered unusable.
If an organization you deal with did have customer data stolen, what data of yours did the thieves get? Merrill Warkentin, a professor of information systems at Mississippi State University, writes that you should ask yourself some questions to assess your risk. If the stolen data was your purchase history, maybe that won’t be used to hurt you. But if it was your credit card number, that’s a different story.
Data breaches are a good opportunity “to change your passwords, especially at banks, brokerages and any site that retains your credit card number,” he wrote. In addition to using unique passwords and two-factor authentication, “you should also consider closing old unused accounts so that the information associated with them is no longer available.”
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Ransomware, data breach, cyberattack: What do they have to do with your personal information, and how worried should you be?
2. The market for your stolen data
Most data breaches are financial crimes, but the hackers generally don’t use the stolen data themselves. Instead, they sell it on the black market, usually via websites on the dark web, for other criminals and scammers to use.