What to Do if You’re the Victim of a Data Breach

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Data breaches are one of the biggest threats in the modern era. Each year hackers perform more than 1000 data breaches. Damage from these breaches averages around $3.86 million, making the total cost of breaches each year well over $1 billion globally. So how are you supposed to defend yourself against the threat of these breaches? This guide will teach you everything you need to know if you become the victim of a data breach.

What is a Data Breach?

Data breaches are often a subject that newspapers and websites bring up. But, if you’ve never come across the term before, it may be a little confusing. A data breach is the act of a hacker or scammer gaining unauthorized access to a system. The hacker in question will then farm information from the system and sell it to the highest bidder online.

Data breaches are one of the most common forms of cyber attack. Hackers favor this type of attack because data is usually easy to obtain and valuable to the right people.

How Bad Data Breaches Have Become

Data Breach - Number of Breaches
This image shows only the biggest breaches since 2015, and it’s almost full. | Source: Information is Beautiful

If you’re not up-to-date on the news, you may not understand how bad the issue of data breaches has become. In 2018 alone, the United States suffered 1,244 data breaches, with over 400 million records affected. Since then, the number of data breaches has increased, rising by 11% since 2018.

Even worse, Varonis reported in 2020 that 56% of Americans didn’t know what to do about a data breach, and 64% had never checked if they’d been the victim of one at all. Thus, despite being rampant, data breaches are not well-understood by the general public.

What to Do if You’re the Victim of a Data Breach

You must act fast if you’re ever the victim of a data breach. How you should respond will change depending on the nature of the breach. In general, the first thing you should do is change any details that have become compromised in a data breach.

If your Social Security Number has been stolen, then there’s, unfortunately, little you can do. The US government will replace SSNs under extreme circumstances, but only after you’ve become the victim of identity theft. So the best solution to protect your SSN is a pre-emptive one. First, ensure you’re deleting records of your SSN whenever you stop using a service. You can visit our guide on removal requests for help in having your data taken down.

As well as changing your phone number, or any other details that have become compromised, you should also change your account passwords and 2FA settings. Then, log into any accounts that were compromised in the breach and change your security details. You should also arrange with your cell provider to have your number switched.

If the company that has suffered a data breach fails to inform you or take proper action, you should stop using services run by that company. It is a company’s duty to inform customers of a breach promptly. Unfortunately, most companies take over 200  days on average to detect a breach, let alone inform customers.

How to Prevent Data Breaches in the Future

Data Breach - Action You Can Take
Always remember these actions if you’re ever caught up in a data breach. | Source: NCSC

Unless you work in a cyber security company, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to stop breaches directly. Instead, it would help if you took actions to minimize the chances that you’ll become a victim of a breach.

It would be best to try to ensure that as little of your information is kept online as possible. For example, when you’re signing up for a service, only give them the bare minimum information they ask for. The less data is available about you, the less chance you have of becoming a victim.

It’s also a good idea for you to limit the companies that have your information on file. Instead, you should contact the company and send them a data removal request whenever you’re finished with a service. We have a guide on data removal requests to help you keep your data secured.

Finally, a great step to take is to hire a personal cybersecurity manager. If you’re a high-value target or a business owner, you can hire us to help you stay protected.

Featured image by Mashka from Shutterstock.com