Securing Your Identity
Identity Theft and Data Breaches
We are hearing about it more and more in the news about identity theft and data breaches. And these instances increase, your ability to keep your personal information safely guarded is more likely than not to be compromised. In 2017, 16.7 million individuals were affected by identity theft with $16.8 billion stolen. Today it almost seems futile to protect yourself against identity theft—but, there are things you can do to reduce your risk. If you do become a victim of identity theft, there are steps you can take to guard against serious loses.
What are data breaches?
A data breach (sometimes called a computer hack) occurs when a cybercriminal successfully infiltrates a data source and extracts sensitive identifying information for individuals. This can be done physically by accessing a computer or network to steal local files or, more typically, by bypassing network security remotely. Secure data breaches can happen to network systems for brick and mortar stores as well as online shopping, and even credit reporting bureaus (e.g., Equifax in July 2017).
How does this happen?
- The cybercriminal looks to attack weaknesses in a company’s security (people, systems, or network). An attack can be either a network or social attack.
- A network attack occurs when a cybercriminal uses infrastructure, system, and application weaknesses to infiltrate an organization’s network.
- Social attacks involve tricking or baiting employees into giving access to the company’s network. An employee can be duped into giving his/her login credentials or may be fooled into opening a malicious attachment.
- Once the cybercriminal gets into one computer, it’s easy to gain the access needed to attack the network and tunnel into confidential company data. Once the hacker extracts the data, the attack is considered successful.
Breaches can result in personal identity theft including data such as your name, address, bank account numbers, passwords, and social security number. In the event your identifying information is breached, it’s important to know what type of information was stolen.
If you’ve been a victim of a data breach, you need to do the following:
- Keep in touch with the company to learn what it is doing to protect you.
- File a complaint with the FTC at identitytheft.gov.
- Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to place a ‘fraud alert’ on your credit records (also consider placing a “freeze” on access to your credit report):
- Close immediately any financial or credit accounts opened by identity thieves
How you can reduce your risk
Help secure your identity and personal information by following these tips:
- Always use security software with firewall and anti-virus protections. Use strong passwords.
- Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails, threatening calls and texts from thieves posing as legitimate organizations such as your bank, credit card companies and even the IRS.
- Do not click on links or download attachments from unknown or suspicious emails.
- Protect your personal information and that of any dependents. Don’t routinely carry Social Security cards, and make sure your tax records are secure (identity theft doesn’t only happen online).