• Credit Confident

How to Protect Yourself From the Next Big Data Breach

Dangers lurk around every data byte, and as everyone's lives are becoming increasingly digitized, you are constantly at risk of losing your identity. The recent breach at credit reporting bureau Equifax emphasizes that fact.

"I believe that the Equifax breach scared people to death because it finally dawned on us how much of our data is out there," says Adam Levin, founder of CyberScout, a provider of identity theft protection services. "Equifax is the exclamation on the problem."

The credit bureau's breach exposed data – including people's Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and even some driver's license numbers (i.e., exactly what you'd need to steal someone's identity) – of 145.5 million Americans. That's about half of the U.S. population and three-quarters of consumers with credit reports, according to the National Consumer Law Center – making the odds that you were affected high.

And Equifax has continued to botch its recovery from this cybersecurity struggle. It was widely criticized for opting to set up a new site – equifaxsecurity2017.com – where people could see if they'd been affected rather than create a page at its existing domain. Software engineer Nick Sweeting even proved how easy that strategy made it for identity thieves to phish for data by creating a copycat site with a similar URL – and Equifax itself fell for the fake site, tweeting out a link to it several times. Most recently, on Oct. 11, independent security analyst Randy Abrams discovered malware on Equifax's site that popped up to trick visitors into downloading fraudulent Adobe updates.

While the Equifax story might be grabbing the most headlines right now, it's far from being the only such occurrence. "The scope, the scale, the amount of data, the way that the thieves are getting it – all of these things are growing in both frequency and severity," says Eva Velasquez, CEO and president of the nonprofit organization Identity Theft Resource Center.

In fact, in 2012, the ITRC reports that a only 471 data breaches occurred. In 2016, the number of breaches jumped up to 1,091, and in 2017, the count had already reached 1,080 as of Oct. 10 and exposed more than 171 million records.

Given such a rapidly growing problem, the need to protect yourself is clear. "I think you have to assume that breaches have become the third certainty in life," says Levin. "And government and businesses have been unable to protect us, so we have to do everything we can to protect ourselves."

Unfortunately, you can't prevent your personal data from being exposed in the inevitable next big data breach. "Your information has already been shared, and it's not plausible that you can remove all of your information from all these places," says credit expert John Ulzheimer, formerly of Equifax and FICO.

But that doesn't mean you should do nothing. While you may not be able to keep all of your data under lock and key, you need to control what you can and take action to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft.

Read more at U.S News

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