There never seems to be an end to the data leaks and hacking attacks that dominate media headlines. T-Mobile, Bonobos, Kroger, Ubiquiti, and even the California Department of Motor Vehicles have already experienced data breaches this year. And according to Risk Based Security, the number of data records compromised reached 37 billion in 2020. That’s a staggering 141% jump from the previous year.
The risk of a data breach is very real. So, spending a moment to understand how you can protect your data privacy doesn’t need much elaboration.
What is data protection?
In simple terms, data protection is about safeguarding your valuable information from theft and loss. But why is this a concern? A data breach or a loss could leave you with irreparable consequences. It’s about much more than the emotional distress and the hassle of recovery. It could potentially expose you to significant dangers.
Having said that, it’s important to understand that access to data does not always lead to detrimental consequences. Sometimes, it could come with significant benefits. For instance, Equifax uses personal data to provide credit reports and Nuwber builds profiles to offer background checks. These are useful services for your financial health and safety. But troubles begin when your data reach malicious actors like hackers and criminals.
What type of data can place you at risk?
Here are some common types of data that you need to protect.
- Identifiable information such as your full name, date of birth, address, contact number, and email.
- Financial information, including credit card numbers, bank account details, and bank statements.
- Government-issued information like social security numbers, birth certificates, and driving licenses.
- Confidential data such as usernames and passwords.
- Personal information like family details, personal interests, opinions, and affiliations.
- Professional information, including your work history, salary details, employee records, and work-related documents.
The bottom line is, any type of information related to you could get you into trouble if lost or placed in the hands of an unscrupulous individual.
Why is data protection so essential?
A lackluster approach to data protection could expose you to various dangers, both in the real and cyber worlds. Here are some of the common risks you could get exposed to when you don’t safeguard your personal information.
Identity and financial theft
A malicious cyber attack could easily open up your personal data to criminals. Phishing, whaling, spyware, and malware are all common terms that turn up in news stories reporting data breaches. And the result is often identity and financial theft. In fact, according to a Verizon report, 86% of these incidents are triggered by financial gain.
For instance, your social security number could help someone claim a fraudulent tax return. Your bank account or credit card information might be enough for them to wipe out your savings. Getting access to your personal data could help them create fake profiles under your name on social media and commit countless other frauds. For a criminal, the possibilities are simply limitless. And for you, the cost of consequences could be unimaginable.
You might lose data due to several reasons. For example, you could become a victim of a ransomware attack that takes over your devices. Unless you pay up a ransom, you may not see your data files again. Even a malicious virus could wipe out the information on an infected device. But sometimes, a device malfunction could leave you with the same consequences.
And remember, it’s not just digital data that you may lose. Devices like your smartphone, tab, or laptop could be stolen, too. And for a criminal, both your device and the data stored in it could be of high value. A stolen smartphone, for example, could provide access to your emails, text messages, contact lists, personal photos, and many other personal and confidential information.
Losing hardcopy documents such as your social security card, birth certificate, bank statements, and important work files could have similarly detrimental effects.
Compromised data may also lead to harassment. This can take the form of bullying, stalking, and even extortion. And these are all too common, although rarely discussed or reported. For instance, leaking an explicit photo could make you a victim of cyberbullying. A malicious individual may even use it for extortion. And if selling it to media or another organization could lead to higher financial gains, then they might decide to do just that.
But even a simple piece of information could be used for twisted fun. Getting hold of your phone number, for instance, could end up in call harassment with continuous midnight calls. And if your personal information gets exposed to a sexual predator, it could lead to more severe consequences like cyberstalking and even physical threats.
Although more common among celebrities and other popular figures, even a regular person could face reputation damage because of a data breach. A criminal, for instance, could impersonate you using your personal information and conduct various unlawful and unethical acts. By getting access to your email account, they could send out messages to your personal contacts requesting money. They could create fake dating profiles using your name and photos and lure innocent victims to commit predatory acts.
Individuals driven by spite or just childish fun may also misuse or misrepresent information and cause severe reputation damage. And all these could affect your career and personal life, sometimes with irreparable damages.
Even if you evade the severe consequences of a hacking attack or a data loss, having your data exposed to outsiders could feel like a serious intrusion of privacy. So, data protection is not something you can postpone to another day. Safeguarding your personal information with an aggressive action plan demands urgent attention for both your safety and peace of mind.