By Rachael Trotman
From ordering food, requesting a taxi and checking our bank accounts, to meeting new people and selling our unwanted items, more of our lives are spent online. And whilst these digital services have given us more convenience and a better customer experience, we are giving our personal data to an unlimited number of people and companies.
And we’ve lost track of the details we’ve given – after giving them to so many different people and companies, it’s hard to remember who we gave our details to, what information we gave or when we gave them. A terrifying thought when news of data breaches hit the headlines almost everyday. In fact, in 2016 alone a record 421 billion data records were stolen. If that’s not scary enough, 35 data records are lost or stolen every second and over 3 million data records are lost or stolen every day.
But what makes our personal information so attractive and valuable to cybercriminals? If it falls into the wrong hands, somebody could have enough information to steal your identity; using this to apply for credit, pretend to be you on your social media accounts, and even file for bankruptcy under your name. The internet, specifically the dark web, is full of passwords, personal details, credit card numbers and even health records all for sale. A recent investigation also uncovered British passports, driving licenses, utility bills and even GCSE certifications – with some passports selling for as little as £800. What price would you put on your identity?
It comes as no surprise then that more people worry about the threat of cybercrime than physical crime. A recent Sophos survey revealed that 63% of people worry about financial loss due to a computer breach and 61% worry about hackers taking over their computer and sending spam and malware to their contacts. In contrast, 46% feel worried about their car being stolen or broken into or physical assault, and 52% worry about their home being burgled.
Despite this, it’s likely that we’ve become immune to news of data breaches and cybercrimes; they hit the headlines so frequently, we’ve accepted them as the new normal, with as many as 32% of people ignoring data breach notices. We simply wonder which company will be under the spotlight next, rather than worry about our own personal data being exposed. But how likely is it that your data will be compromised?
Unfortunately the number of identity theft victims continues to rise, with identity theft counting for 64% of all data breaches in the first half of 2016. Recent figures from Kaspersky Lab reveal that 52% of internet users who have lost money to cybercriminals fail to recover the money they’ve lost. And it’s not just the individual who suffers. Cybercrime costs British businesses £34 billion a year and UK fraud hit a record £1.1billion in 2016 for the first time since 2011. Chances are the true figures are even higher.
There are some key reasons why instances of identity theft continue to rise. Increased social media use means people are sharing personal information, such as their name, photos, date of birth and even their phone number on their networks. If they have their profiles set to public then anyone can read, and steal, their personal details. Secondly, consumers give their details to multiple companies, having to trust that these details will be kept safe and secure. But hackers continue to be one step ahead and outsmart companies – in the past few years we’ve seen Yahoo, Tesco, Three Mobile, TalkTalk, Ashley Madison, Experian, British Airways, and many more become the victim of data breaches.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Thanks to technology innovations, especially in biometrics, some companies are making progress on making the internet a safer place. Even the Government is committed by investing £1.9 billion over the next five years to tackle cybercrime. We can all do more to protect our personal information though and take some simple steps to help protect our identity in today’s digital world. Set your social media profiles to private, use two factor authentication everywhere you can, and make sure you know who you’re dealing with before sharing information with them.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of the Global Cyber Alliance.