Online privacy seems almost non-existence when you factor in this age of likes, shares, tweets, and hashtags. Now more than ever, the activities of our daily lives are shared through social media. The worst part is that we are giving out this information voluntarily.
When the privacy of your Internet activity is in question, be very afraid. Your information, be it financial or personal, is of high value to cybercriminals. In this era, consumers are more than willing to share their private information just to use technology. At the same time, governments and corporations are monitoring our activities; this has already been accepted as a part of modern life.
Many people assume that their browsing activity is what needs to be protected. This may carry some truth, but the most important thing to protect is your identity and activities. In this article, I will explain some of the reasons why privacy is important, the fate of stolen data, and methods of protecting your privacy.
Based on our human nature, we all have secrets. Secrets have many facets depending on the person; it could be sensitive data about your family, medical records, salary, drugs, or bank account details. Secrecy is not bad. Several things are better kept hidden than broadcasted for the whole world. This is why efforts to protect our privacy are important.
Data is of high value on the internet; it is stolen, collected, analyzed, and sold. When your identity is stolen, hackers may be able to access your private information and even masquerade as you. Your data is used to prove who you are, from banking records, passports, home loans, and medical records, among others. If this information is stolen, it can compromise your reputation as well as your identity. Yet, many data collection methods exist on the internet. Here are a few examples:
Some of the information carried by the aforementioned methods may not seem enough to trouble you. However, combining bits and pieces from each is enough to sink a business if it falls into the wrong hands. A hacker can easily access this data and use it to carry out different types of exploits.
As mentioned earlier, data is precious, thus expensive. However, it can also be sold legally too. Nowadays, several companies under the title ‘data brokers’ collect and preserve the data of millions of users. These companies analyze this data, package it, and sell it to companies without the knowledge or permission of the user. Data brokers do this for several reasons: direct marketing, credit risk assessment, and targeted advertisements.
Cybercriminals can, however, decide to use this data for other purposes if they get a hold of it. It all depends on the type of information that was stolen.
This is data that can be used to locate, identify, or contact a specific target. PII can range from addresses, social security numbers, names, birth dates, phone numbers, and any data useful in identifying a person. This is one of the most sought out data by cybercriminals because of its versatility. Once marketing firms get a hold of this information, the victim might target spam campaigns. On the other hand, attackers may decide to impact the victim more directly. This can be through loan or credit card applications and fraudulent tax returns via the victim’s name.
This is data used by an individual to acquire medical services. It may hold information about or related to medical insurance and hospital records. Similar to PII, healthcare holds a lot of individual’s personal information. A hacker with this information can decide to buy prescription drugs using your name, especially those that are hard to get over the counter. Therefore, your name and private information can be used to fuel drug abuse without your knowledge.
Financial information refers to data used to keep a record of the financial activities of both individuals and groups. Such information may include insurance details, billing accounts, banking information, or any useful information for the access and processing of monetary transactions.
When this kind of information falls into the wrong hands, businesses and individuals can easily be run to the ground or sustain many losses. For example, financial information can perform fraudulent transactions, pay bills and transfer money to other bank accounts. In addition, some cybercriminals go the extra mile of creating counterfeit credit cards from harvested information for their personal use.
Data that is found in payment cards of individuals is known as payment card information. Examples of such information include debit card data, credit card data, and other related information. Payment card information is similar to financial information; they can both greatly affect a user’s finances. However, this information may pose a greater danger than financial information because it can be used for online transactions and immediate purchases. In addition, the damage is greater based on the kind of purchase permissions the card has.
This is data that is used to verify that the user is really who they claim to be. An example is email passwords and usernames, as well as login credentials of online shopping. Compared to PII, theft of private user credentials poses more risks because the victim's online accounts are at risk of being used maliciously. Apart from intellectual property theft, social media accounts and emails can be used for phishing and spam attacks.
All these types of information are interrelated. For example, if a set of data is stolen from your healthcare records, there is a huge chance that other types of information (such as financial and user) have been compromised.
Your password is the key to your digital existence. Hackers have multiple methods that they apply to try and crack them. Using strong, complex passwords makes this very difficult for them. You can do this by combining symbols, numbers, lower and uppercase letters, and ensuring your passwords are at least eight characters long. Making use of two-factor authentication to verify your identity is also a smart move. Moreover, regardless of the convenience and the time saves, never save your passwords on your device.
Make sure you keep track of your digital footprint. Even if you delete the content you already posted online, the footprint will not be erased. A digital footprint can be compared to a paper trail. From photos to videos to forum registrations, anything you post online leaves chunks of your personal data online.
When using the different types of apps at your disposal, be sure to understand the privacy settings that come with it. This will give you an understanding of the amount and type of information that you are giving out. If possible, choose to share the least amount of data. Be cautious when revealing your name and location, and deny access to your camera and recorder. While using social media, beware of the people you share the information with. Most sites have the option of limiting the people you share the information with. Be sure to tune those settings to friends and people you trust.
Do not overlook backing up your data. Hackers can use ransomware to hold your data from you. In addition, purchase security software that protects you both offline and online. For example, you can use Windows Defender or result in a third-party application. A good example is Norton Security. Phones need to be secured just as much as laptops and desktops, and the latter can do a good job at that as well.
Your information is of high value to a hacker. Your browsing activity may be a target for cybercriminals, but your identity matters more to them. Due to the nature of the secrecy of humans, we need to protect some of the information we have. Your data summarizes your identity; if this data is compromised, your reputation and identity might be ruined. Some of the methods used to collect data online include fingerprinting, cookies, mobile apps, and online tracking. You can protect your privacy by using strong passwords, backing up your data, monitoring your digital footprint, and being aware of your privacy settings.