As more and more of our daily activities and interactions move to the internet, we often fail to consider the natural predators that dwell in the online space. We’re talking, of course, about hackers. Some of these people will steal your identity or money, and some of them have been known to do much worse.
This Is Only the Beginning
There is every reason to believe that this danger will only increase. In many ways, hacking might be described as the “dark side” of technology. Although normal people use technology to do normal things, evil or corrupt individuals will use the same technology to obey their nature. For such people, the first step is stealing your data.
One of the most dangerous consequences of data breaches is identity theft, with 14 million credit card numbers exposed in 2017. For instance, someone might commandeer your Craigslist page and use it to sell stolen goods. Or worse, they might gain control of your bank account and use it to finance illicit activities. In general, identity theft is carried out by criminals who want to use your face as a “disposable identity.” It is the digital equivalent of a disguise.
Breaches Are Getting Harder to Detect
In many cases, it seems that data breaches can go undetected for a long time indeed. For instance, let’s take a look at the Uber hack of 2016. After hackers gained control of their systems, Uber paid a ransom of $100,000 to an unspecified party. It took an entire year before anyone outside of the company knew what had happened.
It wasn’t until November of 2017 that the hack was finally disclosed. In this case, the data breach went unreported because the company didn’t want to deal with the embarrassment of having allowed this to happen. In other cases, companies or individuals might simply be unaware of the situation.
How Common Is This Problem?
It is very hard to obtain accurate statistics when it comes to data breaches. The basic problem is that all research is limited to the data breaches which have been reported. It goes without saying that many of these incidents go unreported, but the reported figures can still give us a good idea of how often this situation really occurs.
For some good statistics, let’s take a look at a report from the Identity Theft Resource Center, an organization that keeps close track of all reported data breaches from year to year.
In 2018, the ITRC found a total of 1,244 data breaches, with about 446,515,334 records being exposed. For comparison, look at the 2017 report, which documents a total of 1,579 data breaches with about 178,955,069 records compromised. As you can see, there were slightly fewer breach incidents in 2018, but the number of records exposed in these incidents was more than doubled.
Why Do Hackers Steal Personal Data?
As we mentioned earlier, hackers will normally steal your identity or other personal information so that they can do one of several things:
- Steal your money or other wealth
- Steal someone else’s money or wealth while using your identity as a mask
- Use your identity while engaging in shady online activities
How to Keep From Being Hacked
There are several important steps that you can take in order to keep hackers from stealing your information. First, make sure you always use long and randomized passwords. You want at least 20 characters, and they should contain letters, numbers, and maybe even some symbols. Use at least one capital letter and avoid using common phrases or birthdays. Common words in any language can be hacked very quickly.
You should also make use of the various forms of encryption. Hackers use encryption to hide from the authorities, but you can use the same technology to protect yourself from them. A good VPN service is a great place to start. A VPN encrypts your connection to the internet, creating (in effect) an encrypted tunnel between you and the outside world. For email, use PGP or GPG, as these have never been hacked (as far as anyone knows).
Although there are many common-sense methods that can help you to protect yourself from hackers, large-scale computer systems frequently have problems implementing those methods. As such, we can reasonably assume that this problem will only continue to increase in scope and severity unless we find better ways to neutralize this threat.