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Are You Vulnerable to Identity Theft? Understanding Data Breaches

13 December 2023

Data breaches and identity theft can cause major harm to individuals and organisations alike. From exposing confidential information to risking financial security, the consequences are far-reaching.

According to a study by Surfshark, over 110 million accounts were compromised in the second quarter of 2023. This is 2.6 times as many as the 43.2 million accounts compromised in the first quarter. To give you an idea of its magnitude, 855 accounts were breached per minute, as opposed to 334 accounts per minute in the first quarter.

But fear not! There are definitely steps that you can take to prevent becoming a victim. In this article, we dive into the world of identity theft and data breaches and give you tips on how to keep your data secure.

Understanding the Impact of Data Breaches

Data breaches occur when unauthorised parties break into networks, databases, or computer systems to gather confidential information.

It can be personal information about employees including names, addresses, ID numbers, health or financial records, or even organisations’ sensitive data such as classified information, internal memos or correspondences.

Types of Data Breaches

Data breaches can take many forms, and it is essential to understand the different types to better protect against them. 

1. Phishing Attacks

Imagine receiving an email or message that seems perfectly trustworthy, seemingly from your bank or a trusted company. That’s the bait cybercriminals use in phishing attacks that many people fall prey to. These emails trick you into providing sensitive information. If you are deceived and provide your login credentials or other personal data, you would have essentially opened the door to a potential data breach.

2. Malware Attacks

Malware attacks make use of malicious software to gain unauthorised access to a system or network. These malicious software agents sneak into your system through various avenues, including email attachments, sketchy websites, or seemingly innocent software downloads. Once installed, malware can steal data, modify or delete files, and even take control of your system.

3. Insider Threats

Sometimes, the threat comes from within your own ranks. Insider threats are data breaches caused by employees or other insiders who have access to sensitive data. These breaches can be intentional, such as when an employee steals data to sell it or use it for personal gain. Some are unintentional, like an employee accidentally sharing sensitive information to external parties.

4. Physical Theft or Loss

Ever lost a laptop or a USB drive? Physical theft or loss is a real-world data breach that can have serious consequences. If the device contains sensitive data and it’s not protected with encryption, anyone who finds it can access your secrets.

5. Third-Party Breaches

Third-party breaches occur when a vendor or partner of an organisation experiences a data breach that affects the entire organisation’s data. These breaches can occur when a vendor’s security is compromised, or when an attacker gains access to the vendor’s system through a phishing attack or other means.

Here’s a breakdown of their potential impact:

  1. Identity Theft

Identity theft is one of the most serious and immediate effects of a data breach. Stolen personal information can be used by criminals to start fake accounts, make unauthorised transactions, or carry out other illegal acts under your name.

  1. Operational Disruption

Cyberattacks often result in system outages, data loss, as well as time- and resource-consuming recovery efforts. During this critical period, organisations would have difficulty carrying out their core functions efficiently. 

  1. Financial Loss

Victims of data breaches often face financial losses, as they may be held responsible for unauthorised transactions or fraudulent activities. What more, disruption incurred by data breaches causes immediate financial consequences and long-term implications for business continuity.

  1. Reputation Damage

Organisations afflicted by data breaches may suffer serious damage to their reputation. Customers lose trust, and companies risk facing financial and legal repercussions.

  1. Emotional Stress

Beyond financial effects, the emotional toll of being a victim of identity theft should not be underestimated. Dealing with the aftermath of a data breach can be emotionally taxing, plus the fear and uncertainty can all lead to additional stress and anxiety.

Essential Steps Against Identity Theft

  1. Use High-Grade Encryption 

Implementing high-grade encryption ensures that even if cybercriminals manage to break into your system, they’ll only find a puzzle without a solution. That is because the encrypted data is converted into a code that is nearly impossible to crack without the decryption key. This provides an additional layer of security to make it very difficult for hackers to use any stolen data.

  1. Enable Multi-Factor Authentication

In addition to encryption, enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) wherever possible. You can reduce the risk of unauthorised access, even in the event of compromised login credentials.

MFA requires users to provide two or more authentication factors before gaining access to an account or system. This typically includes something the user knows (e.g. a password), something the user has (e.g. a smartphone with a one-time code generator), and something the user is (e.g. a fingerprint or facial recognition). 

  1. Regularly Update and Patch Systems

Cybercriminals frequently take advantage of vulnerabilities in outdated operating systems or software. So ensure that all your software, including operating systems and antivirus programs, are up to date. Apply security updates as soon as possible to fix any vulnerabilities. This is a good strategy to close any potential security gaps.

  1. Limit Data Access

Restrict access to sensitive information only to employees who require it to perform their job responsibilities. You can also implement strong authentication mechanisms such as role-based access so that employees have access only to the information needed for their job function. By limiting access, you can minimise the possibility of internal data breaches.

  1. Maintain Data Backups

Back up your critical data and store the backups off-site, away from your primary systems. This preventative step might save your organisation in the event of a ransomware attack, hardware failure, or data loss due to breach. Also make sure to test your backup and recovery processes regularly to verify their performance and reliability.

  1. Employee Training and Awareness Programmes

Employees make up the front line in the battle against data breaches. However, we can’t deny that human error is one of the top significant factors causing data breaches. Employees may inadvertently click on malicious links or fall victim to phishing attacks. To combat this, conduct regular cybersecurity training for employees and educate them on how to spot and respond to potential threats.

Final Thoughts

Due to the increasing instances and sophistication of cyberattacks, we have to 

know their consequences and also act early to prepare ourselves before they happen again.

As mentioned, consequences of data breaches may be anything from identity theft or monetary loss to operational disturbances. However, by implementing best practices in cybersecurity such as encryption, MFA, and frequent patching, you can harden up your defense lines and decrease the likelihood of getting compromised from a data breach.

Discover how to better protect and secure your data with us at KnowledgeTree here.