What is a Data Breach and How Do You Protect Yourself

Posted by Norma Stratton on

You have no doubt heard about data breaches happening over the past few years, but you may be unsure of what a data breach entails. In essence, a security breach is when private information is accessed by someone without permission to do so. With companies collecting and storing personal information about their customers, this can prove harmful to all parties involved; companies lose face and the trust of their customers, while individuals have their personal information exposed.

Companies suffering a data breach have far more to worry about than just a loss of customer confidence—the average cost incurred by companies that have suffered a data breach is $3.86 million. Obviously, this is not a situation that any company can afford to take lightly.

Why Are Cybercriminals Targeting Data?

There are any number of reasons for hackers to target companies to steal their data. Personal information can be used to steal money or even identities. Additionally, this information can be sold over the dark web.

While it is possible for data breaches to occur accidentally, they are typically the result of targeted efforts conducted in four main ways:

  • Exploiting System Vulnerabilities. When software is out of date, it can leave your system vulnerable to attack, often made using malware (see below). Hackers can enter your system and access the data.
  • Weak Passwords. For years, experts have cautioned against using weak passwords, or using a single password across multiple devices and accounts. Weak or insecure passwords are easy for hackers to guess, resulting in a breach. Avoid using weak, simple passwords in favour of unique, complex ones.
  • Drive-By Downloads. It is possible to inadvertently download malware or a virus simply by visiting a compromised web page. Drive-by downloads take advantage of operating systems, browsers, or applications that are out of date, or which contain a security flaw.
  • Targeted Malware Attacks. This is probably what most people think of when they hear about data breaches. Using spam and phishing email tactics, hackers will attempt to trick users into sharing their credentials or downloading attachments that contain malware. They may also direct users to vulnerable websites. Despite repeated warnings to users about not opening unfamiliar emails and links, this remains a common and successful practice. Even when users exercise caution, they might be faced with email that appears to come from a trusted source even when it does not.

Protecting Your Data in the Event of a Breach

Cybercriminals are a crafty lot, so it is important to take steps to protect your identity and personal information. Some of these steps include:

  • Strong, Secure Passwords. Your passwords should be complex and unique, using a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Avoid using the same password across multiple accounts. Many users dislike having to keep track of multiple passwords, so consider using a product that manages your passwords for you, such as Norton Password Manager.
  • Monitoring Your Bank and Financial Accounts. It is important to keep an eye on your financial accounts. Be aware of any unusual activity. It is also a wise idea to sign up for activity alerts if your financial institution offers them. This will notify you by text or email when there is activity on the account, allowing you to monitor things more closely.
  • Checking Your Credit Report. You should be checking your credit report regularly. This will reveal if a thief has attempted to open a credit card or another account in your name.
  • Taking Action Without Delay. If you happen to come across any unusual activity, take action immediately by contacting the financial institution involved. If you are aware of your information being stolen in a data breach, inform them of this fact as well.
  • Securing Your Phone. Your phone should have a password to keep it secure. Although you may find it annoying to enter this password every time you seek to use your phone, it is considerably less annoying than having a criminal access all the information it contains.
  • Use Only Secure URLs. Websites should begin with https://. The “S” will be present on secure sites, something that is vital when entering personal information and credit card numbers.
  • Use High-Quality Software. Make use of software that includes malware are virus protection. Remember to keep it up to date at all times.
  • Files Should be Backed up Frequently. It is always a good idea to keep a secure backup of your information.
  • Wipe Your Hard Drive. If you are recycling your old computer, be sure to wipe your hard drive first. The same should also be done for tablets and smart phones.
  • Don’t Over-share on Social Media. There is a tendency to overshare on Facebook, which could result in accidentally divulging sensitive information. Simple acts like sharing your vacation pics while still on vacation may not seem like a big deal until you realize that you are advertising that your home is unattended.


  • Use an Identity Theft Protection of Theft Monitoring Service. Having your identity stolen is a nightmare, the damage from which could take years to repair. Consider identity theft protection or credit monitoring for extra security.

What Steps Are Companies Taking to Protect Against Data Breaches?

With the growing number of data breaches taking place and the havoc they are causing, most companies have been taking extra measure to protect the data they collect and store. Laws have been put into place requiring companies to take specific action when experiencing a data breach or similar security incident. Companies should be sending breach notifications to consumers when their data is suspected of having been compromised.

Although businesses are being held accountable and are taking steps to safeguard information, it is important that you continue to take steps to protect yourself. Learning about potential threats, monitoring your financial accounts and credit report, and taking steps to secure your private information will help protect you from a devastating data breach.

Remember these safety measures. With so many falling victim to cybercrime and costing them thousands of dollars or worse, forcing them into bankruptcy.

Everyone should assume they have either been attacked, are being attacked, or will be attacked. Fast detection and swift response are the only defense against cybercrime.

We are on a mission to educate and help as many people as we can around their Cybersecurity concerns.

Cybersecurity begins and ends with your day-to-day Cyber awareness, and everyone that owns a computer must know how to stay safe and secure or they will get hacked.


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