What is a data breach and why should you care?
A “breach” is defined as a gap, a crack or the result of a rupture. Breaches cause bad things to get in and good things to get out.
And so it is with a data breach. It occurs when confidential information, such as your Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers, personal health information or even wireless phone and utilities accounts are released.
It isn’t always crazed hackers or Internet madmen wreaking havoc on the world either. The breach doesn’t even have to be intentional. Human error and carelessness also cause data breaches—but that doesn’t eliminate the risk. Once the information is out there, it’s probably out there for good.
What can you do?
Unfortunately, not much.
Let’s say you do everything right on your end: shred documents, use secure websites, only supply your Social Security number when absolutely required, and create strong, secure passwords. You’re still only as safe as your weakest link.
That weak link could be anywhere your personal information resides: at your doctor’s office, employer, bank, favorite restaurant or even the person who cut your hair last week. You may be doing a whole lot right, what about everyone else?
The odds are you’ll be part of a breach sooner or later. The Verizon 2013 Data Breach Investigations Report cites 44 million compromised records in 2012.
In addition, the report also discovered that only 30 percent of victims discover their own breaches. So 70 percent learn about it from a third party, which can take weeks or months. The longer your information is out there undetected, the higher your risk.
While companies try to keep up by continuously boosting security, here are a couple of ways you can strengthen your defense against data breaches.
- Do not provide your Social Security number unless it is absolutely necessary. Ask.
- Never use your name, or a child or pet’s name in your passwords.
Create passwords with upper and lower case letters, non-sequential numbers and symbols.
Change them at least quarterly.
Do not use the same password for multiple accounts; this will minimize the damage in case your information is compromised.
While our digital age has brought us a world of connectivity and convenience, it has also cultivated a new breed of criminal. And although today’s tactics may be different, the goal remains the same—take what’s yours and make it theirs.