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How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Identity theft is a type of crime where someone’s personal and financial data is obtained and is used without user permission. The people who do this, identity thieves, may use a person’s information like apply for credit cards or loans using the owner’s names, raid their bank account or use their credit card or simply sell the information to someone else who is their enemy.

The very first step in protecting yourself from identity theft is learning how it occurs. After knowing that you can start taking steps to limit your exposure. There’s entirely no way to prevent identity theft, but you can make it harder for criminals to gain access to your personal information and accounts.

Data Breaches

A data breach exposes confidential, sensitive, or protected information to unauthorized persons. The data retrieved from the data breach is viewed or shared without permission. Any person can be at risk of data breach especially those individuals from high-level enterprises and governments.

Generally, data breaches happen due to weaknesses in:

  • Technology – as our computers and mobile devices get more connective features, there are more places for data to slip through. New technologies are being created faster than we can protect them. Many smart products have gaping flaws, for example the lack of encryption and the hackers take advantage of that.
  • User behavior – since new digital products are being used with minimal security testing, the problem will still grow, however, even if the backend technology was set up perfectly, some of the users will likely still have poor digital habits. It only takes one person to compromise a website or network.

How Data Breaches happen

Reasons for how a data breach happens might sometimes be traced back to intentional attacks which can easily result from a simple oversight by individuals or flaws in a company’s structure.

This is how data breach occurs:

  • Malicious insider- this are people who intentionally accesses and shares data which they had no authorisation to with the intention of causing harm to an individual or company,the malicious insider might as well have legitimate authorization to use the data, but the intend is to use the information in nefarious ways.
  • An accidental incider- an example of an accidental insider would be an employee using a co-worker’s computer and reading their files without having the proper authorisation permissions. The access is unintentional and no information is shared. However, because it was viewed by an unauthorized personnel it is considered breached. 
  • Malicious outside criminals- these are hackers who use various attack vectors to gather important information from a network or from an individual.
  • Lost or stolen devices- this is where an encrypted an unlocked laptop or external hard drive that contains sensitive information goes missing and gets to the wrong hand, people who can use the information retrieved from them against you.

The malicious methods used to Breach Data

The malicious breaches are mostly from cyber attacks. Here are some popular methods used by hackers:

  • Phishing – these are social engineers attacks which are designed to fool you into causing a data breach. Phishing attackers pose as people or organizations you trust to easily deceive you. Criminals of this nature try to coax you into handing over access to sensitive data or provide the data itself.
  • Malware – all our devices operating system, software, hardware or the network and servers you are connected to have security flaws. This gaps in protect are sought out by criminals as the perfect place to shove malware. Spyware is ideal for stealing private data while being undetected completely, this infection is a hard one to find untill its too late
  • Brute force attacks – many hackers might enlist software tools to guess your password, brute force attacks work through all the possibilities for your password until they guess correctly. These attacks used to take a lot of time but have become rapid as computer speed continues to upgrade. The hackers even hijack other devices via malware infections to speed up the process, this will give them an easy time when your password is weak.

The targets in Data Breaches

Malicious criminals tend to follow a basic pattern while targeting organizations, for this to happen a breach takes planning. The common vulnerabilities targeted by malicious criminals include:

  • Weak credentials – the vast majority of data breaches are caused by weak credentials. If these malicious criminals have a combination of your username and password, they already have an open door to your network this is because for the people who reuse passwords, cybercriminals can use brute force attacks to gain entrance to the information accessed through email, websites and bank accounts.
  • Third party access – even though you may do everything possible to keep your network and data secure, malicious  criminals could use third-party vendors to make their way into your system.
  • Mobile devices – most employees are allowed to bring their own devices into the workplace which is easy for unsecured devices to download the malware-laden apps that give hackers access to the data stored in the devices which includes work emails and files.
  • Compromised assets – most of the malware attacks are used to neglect regular authentication steps that would normally protect a computer.

The damages of a Data Breach

The effects of data leaks can be a lasting issue for your reputation and your finances.

For individuals – data leaks can reveal everything from social security numbers to banking information, once the criminals have those details they engage in all types of fraud under your name.

For business, organizations – data breaches can have a devastating effect on an organization’s and financial bottom line which will greatly cause harm to the organization

For government organizations – any compromised data can mean exposing highly confidential information to foreign parties. For example military operations, political dealings, and details on essential national infrastructure can pose a major threat to a government.

How your data and online identity can be protected

Cyber threats have become so widespread that the U.S government has implemented a research and development department to formulate a plan to develop technology and create policies that minimize the potential risks in cyberspace.

Here are some of the ways you can protect your data and identity only:

  1. Use Strong Passwords

When creating a password, choose something that will not be easily cracked or decoded. Mix up the letters and numbers, also used symbols and a combination of upper and lowercase numbers.

  1. Look for encryption

Make sure you look for encrypted signs on a website before making any sort of transaction online. Look for the trusted security lock symbol with an extra ‘s’ at the end of HTTP in the URL.

  1. Turn on Web Browser Blacklisting

Many web browsers have additional security options such as blacklisting which allows you to set the criteria for sites you will be navigating.

  1. Install Security Suites

These are programs that keep dishonest people and programs from infecting your computer and stealing information and data from you.

  1. Avoid Phishing Scams

They use a variety of methods to obtain your personal data and steal your identity. There are many Phishing scams out there that can be avoided by educating yourself on how to recognize them.

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