Data breaches are not fun, far from it. Yet we keep hearing of them. If you were to listen to the news, you’d hear that data breaches broke records in 2021. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) reports that, by the 30th of September 2021, hackers had already outperformed themselves as compared to the previous year.
1291 data breaches in 9 months. The figure for 2020 was 1108 data breaches for the whole year. A 17% improvement over 2020. Even worse, 2021’s 1862 data breaches beat the previous record of 1506 breaches in a calendar year, a title held by the year 2017.
This is bad news. It might happen to you. One day you may be shocked to hear you’re your data has been stolen, and worse off, it may be through no fault of your own.
Facebook users, last year, were upset to discover that 533 million of them were victims of a data breach that compromised phone numbers and email addresses. LinkedIn suffered a similar theft of user data for 700 million users.
Theft of personal data can be highly damaging as criminals can commit fraud while disguising themselves as you. Or demand a ransom for sensitive private information. Data breaches can beset you with legal, financial, reputational, and psychological problems.
So you hear a service you use has been hacked, or you receive an email from a service you use informing you that data has been exposed; what do you do?
Here are The 5 Steps You Need to Take Immediately to Protect Yourself
1. Find out how bad the Breach is
What do the hackers have? Social security numbers and other personal Identifiable Information can cause quite a lot of harm compared to emails and credit card information. Therefore, you need to contact the affected service or visit the company’s website for more details before you panic.
The extent of the damage will help you decide how to act decisively.
2. The Hacked Company Might Extend a Helping Hand
If they do, accept it. You need all the help you can get, for the company might offer free credit monitoring, something that would help you keep a close eye on your financial data.
A conscientious company would seek to alert its users of what happened and advise them on the way forward. This communication may come in an email or some other form. Either way, make sure it’s the breached company contacting you and not scammers trying to steal even more data.
3. What You Can Do Yourself
It’s now time to take action. You’ve discovered the extent of the damage, so you now have an idea of what to do first.
- If financial data was stolen, then you’ll want first to call up the bank or whatever financial institution so you can cancel your credit/debit cards. Keep track of your financial statement either through DIY credit monitoring, paid for monitoring, or if it was offered, free credit monitoring.
With your information in the wind, you want to know how much money you have and when and where it is used. Always.
- Your information was stolen online, so you want to secure that front too. Change the breached account’s login and passwords. Look into your other accounts.
Many people reuse passwords, and you can be sure that hackers a trying to use your stolen password on every service they think you might be using. Additional layers of security cannot hurt, such as installing a VPN, though be sure to check which VPN for Windows is safe since not all offer the same level of protection. A VPN provides further encryption and keeps your IP address hidden, protecting you from hackers. Turn on two-factor authentication. Update your OS and antivirus software.
You’re trying to create a fortress.
- If your Social security numbers SSN) and other Personal Identifiable Information (PII) were stolen, inform the relevant bodies. The FTC advises you to file an identity theft report; filing your taxes early would help prevent tax refund fraud, and; the DMV would like to know if your driving license has been compromised.
The FTC has more to say here on steps you can take to protect yourself from certain kinds of information theft.
4. Always Be Watching, Stay Vigilant
Hackers are criminals. They know the scene is hot, and you, law enforcement, and the company they stole from are on the lookout for any suspicious moves. So they may opt to stay low and bide their time waiting to strike when no one is looking.
You’ve made the right moves in protecting yourself now, but don’t let up. Watch out for red flags, or else you’ll get whacked again when you’re not looking.