Hacking is not a minor occurrence any more. This year, those who track the problem report, about half of American adults — about 110 million — will have their personal information accessed by a hacker. Huge data breaches at well-known companies such as Target and Adobe and others are reported too often to ignore.
Ponemon Institute researchers reported that up to 432 million accounts were hacked during the past year. The institute studies issues involving privacy, data protection and information security policy.
The true picture is obscured by policies at some companies, such as AOL and eBay not to divulge the complete details of cyber breaches. But if the exact numbers are elusive, the damage is easy to see. If you are hacked, a thief has access to your name, credit and/or debit card information, email, phone number, birthday, password, security information and physical address.
That makes it easy for people you’d rather didn’t know those details about your life to find you. An abusive ex-spouse, for instance. Not to mention the financial havoc that can be generated by stolen credit card data.
The revelations about huge corporate breaches have become so common that people have become numb to them, researchers say. The numbers are so frequent and the damages so astronomical that they’re hard to assimilate. Among recent instances:
Target, with 70 million customers’ personal information compromised, including 40 million credit and debit cards. Adobe, with 33 million user credentials in the wrong hands, along with 3.2 million stolen credit and debit cards. Snapchat, with the account data of 4.6 million users stolen. Michaels, with 3 million payment cards compromised. Neiman Marcus, breach of data from 1.1 million cards. AOL, data from “a significant number” of the company’s 120 million accounts stolen.
eBay, with possible theft of information on 148 million customers
Americans are increasingly moving more of their lives online. They do shopping, banking and socializing online. Merchants use the Internet to conduct and process transactions. Your data is everywhere: your phone, laptop, work PC, website servers and countless retailers’ computer networks. How vulnerable does that make you feel?
And the deeper the well of information gets, the smarter the hackers become. Their weapons are numerous and they have learned to roam inside corporate networks virtually at leisure before triggering alarms. The pierced, Goth malcontent of the past is gone. Large-scale theft is targeted with militaristic precision. Hackers work in teams and they are able to create malware that attacks specific targets.
Too often, these experts in cyber theft are pitted against underfunded volunteers whose job is to protect the Internet. People who use outdated software that no longer receives security updates are easy prey for the hackers.
“It’s becoming more acute,” said Larry Ponemon, who heads the institute. “If you’re not a victim of data breach, you’re not paying attention.
The headlines announcing heavy-duty breaches have become a modern phenomenon. Watch for more.