With the rapid accumulation of digital information, data breaches have surged, and so have their consequent cost. According to a 2023 IBM report, the average cost of a data compromise has risen by 15% over the past three years to reach $4.45 million.
The consequences of a threat to confidential information can be detrimental for individuals and companies alike. They can endanger your identity and subject you to countless other scams for an infinite time into the future. Once a breach occurs, you can minimize its effects to a certain extent. However, curbing it entirely is virtually impossible. So, prevention is always the best measure for keeping your data safe from illegitimate intrusions.
Understanding Data Breaches
Your data can come under threat when in both physical and digital formats. Here are five common ways you can experience a breach.
Cybercriminals could deploy malicious software to steal digital data from your devices. You can unintentionally allow malware into your smartphone or computer by downloading unverified files, apps, and other software.
Phishing is behind 36% of data breaches in the US. It is a common deceptive technique used for stealing identity-related data, including passwords, SSNs, bank details, and insurance information.
Unlawful access to networks and devices can occur as a result of weak security practices.
Legitimate companies collect user data all the time to improve their products and services and customize their offerings. However, if they are targeted for a data breach, your personal data could also be compromised.
Malicious actors can steal sensitive data in physical form, too. These can include bank statements, driving licenses, credit cards, and even passwords you have written down.
How Can You Protect Yourself From a Data Breach?
What steps can you take to ensure the safety of your personal information and avoid data threats? Let’s take a look.
Strengthen your passwords
Passwords are one of the most ignored security elements in the tech age.
Today, weak login credentials are at the root of data breaches experienced by 30% of internet users. Adopting easy-to-remember passwords, such as 123456, and reusing them across multiple accounts are some of the common mistakes that could compromise data security.
To make effective use of password features, here’s what you should know:
- Each password must have at least eight characters. Use a collection of random letters, numbers, and symbols, not phrases and names you regularly use and remember.
- Every account, file, and device requires a unique username and password.
- If you struggle to remember account details, use a password manager instead of writing them down on sticky notes.
- Never share login credentials, not even with loved ones.
- Add a second layer of security to your passwords with two-factor authentication.
Most smartphones and computers now come equipped with biometric security features that use fingerprints, voice, facial features, and similar biological factors to protect your data.
They help overcome some of the security mishaps frequently experienced with passwords. For example, biometrics are unique to each user and impossible to share, guess, or steal. They also eliminate the need for you to remember complex phrases or character combinations, making them easy to use across all ages.
Scan for malware
Installing anti-virus software is a critical security measure for guarding your smartphone, tab, laptop, and computer.
A reputed virus guard can provide around-the-clock protection by scanning external storage units, files you download, and websites you visit. It can also screen your emails and monitor your devices to detect and contain threats.
Identify and avoid phishing
Criminals can phish for your personal information via email, phone, social media, and in person. To prevent their advances:
- Verify whom you are communicating with, even when they claim to be someone you know.
- Ask plenty of questions to understand the reasons for data requirements.
- Use PhoneHistory to identify unfamiliar callers.
- Directly contact email senders via phone to confirm email sources.
- Check for spoofed websites by comparing the URL with the relevant organization’s regular web address.
- Avoid following links shared via unverified emails, SMSs, and messages.
Minimize unnecessary data sharing
You can unwittingly give away personal information during your regular digital interactions. Here’s how to avoid it:
- Think twice before sharing identifiable details on social media, online forums, and messaging apps. Remember, digital content is easily shareable and can reach many more people than initially intended.
- Deactivate data-tracking features on your online accounts, apps, and devices.
- Read the data protection and handling policies of organizations before you give them access to personally identifiable information.
- Prevent websites from tracking you by rejecting cookies.
- Regularly delete the search history and cached files on your browser. Also, turn off its auto-suggest feature to prevent search-activity tracking.
- Check which app permissions a mobile application requires before downloading and installing it.
- Delete apps and accounts you rarely use. But before that, remember to remove any personal data they may contain.
Guard against unwelcome intrusions
Unwanted prying on your data can happen in multiple ways. To avoid them:
- Use a virtual private network that could encrypt your activities.
- Turn off Bluetooth on your devices.
- Adjust your screen settings or use a privacy shield to prevent shoulder surfing.
Ensure the physical safety of documents and devices
Preventing physical loss or theft of data is just as important as safeguarding it against cyberattacks.
Steps you can take include:
- Minimizing the use of printed documents containing confidential or personal details.
- Keeping bank statements, birth certificates, passports, and similar documents in a safe place.
- Using a shredder whenever you need to discard physical documents.
- Protecting phones, computers, and data storage devices from theft and setting up passwords to prevent unauthorized data access.
In addition to the above steps, a digital data cleanse can go a long way in minimizing data breach risks. So, search for your details on a search engine to identify which personal information is readily available in public domains. Then, remove what is within your reach and work with web publishers to remove what is displayed on third-party websites.
Ongoing tracking and monitoring are equally critical for your data safety. Therefore, regularly check your bank, social security, insurance, and credit score statements and similar documents that detail your activity histories. Any irregularities could signal a breach.