How to Protect Yourself from Online Data Breaches

How to Protect Yourself from Online Data Breaches

Cloud computing is not going anywhere. Americans engage in more online activity than ever, from shopping to entertainment, putting their trust in the hands of the companies that operate websites to secure their personal and financial information, while hackers increasingly breach security efforts around, leaving everyone wondering: How can you be safe from data breaches online?

For personal data, we recommend using a reliable cloud computing and storage solution. The top companies who provide these services spend millions of dollars on security, so as long as you are smart about your password and access, your data will very likely be safe.

Checking to see if your info has been breached

One thing you may want to do first is to check if someone has obtained your email address. There are websites that keep a list of hacked email addresses. If your email shows up on one of these lists, it’s possible that a hacker may have gained access to not only your email address, but your passwords and other personal information, including your credit card details.

There are also websites that maintain current lists of what websites have been breached by hackers.

1. List of breached websites

A website called “Pwned websites” maintains a list of websites that have been breached. You can access the list at: haveibeenpwned.com/PwnedWebsites.

2. Check to see if your email has been hacked for free

There are several sites on the Internet that allow you to do a free, anonymous check to see if your email address has been hacked in a breach. They do this by surveying the dark web where your email address and identity may be for sale.

One of the most popular sites you can check for free is: haveibeenpwned.com.

Another is: hacked-emails.com.

Preventative measures to reduce your risk of data breaches

Hackers are getting better at what they do all the time, and sadly, it seems that having your data stolen is not a matter of IF– but when. Therefore, taking preventative measures in advance can minimize your exposure and level of risk.

1. Consider password management software

Because it’s so difficult to recall passwords for a variety of different sites, many people make the mistake of using the same password with every website they use. Worse, they’ll use a simple to remember password, that could be easy to guess or crack.

One of the best things to do is to use a password management software. The advantage of this type of software is that not only does it remember all the passwords for you, but only requires a single password on your end to unlock it. Further, this type of software will set strong, hard to break passwords that are more secure.

Pricing for password management software varies, some plans are subscription-based, while others such as enpass, have a free desktop version and a one time-charge of $9.99 for the mobile version, which allows you to sync your passwords between your smartphone and desktop computer. If you use an Apple computer and/or iPhone, it has a built-in password manager, though you may find the more robust features offered in dedicated password management software more advantageous. Some things are worth paying for, and online security is definitely worth it.

2. Use a credit card instead of a debit card for online shopping

Many people use their debit cards when shopping online, but they don’t offer the same protection that credit cards do.

The number one thing you need to know: When you use a credit card, the issuer of the card will fight to get its money back. When you use a debit card, you are the one who must fight to get your money back.

Debit card fraud

Under the Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA) your potential liability for fraudulent debit card transaction is more or less unlimited. You only have 60 days to report a lost or stolen card.

Here’s the breakdown on your obligations: If you report a lost or stolen debit card before unauthorized transactions, you have zero liability; within two days it’s $50; within 60 days it’s $500; after 60 days you have no protection – it’s all on you.

Plus, since your debit card is connected to your bank account, conceivably, someone could wipe out your entire bank account.

Credit card fraud

Under the Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), your maximum liability for fraudulent credit card actions is $50. And with many credit cards, they offer you zero liability for all fraudulent transactions.

Comparing the two above, it’s pretty clear you should never use your debit card online.

3. Use a credit monitoring service

An additional layer of protection is to use a credit monitoring service, such as LifeLock. These services will continually monitor your credit, making you immediately aware whenever someone tries to open a new line of credit, or whether there is an unpaid bill in your name that has been routed to a different address. The use of such services can prevent serious financial problems from occurring that you could be responsible for, that you might otherwise be unaware of.

What to do after a data breach has occurred

1. Change your password

The first thing you need to do, if you hear that a website you do business with or have an account with has been breached, is to immediately change your password – whether your password has been compromised or not. Immediately changing your password leaves nothing to chance.

2. Check your credit report, credit cards and bank statements

Make sure someone already hasn’t stolen access to the use of your credit or bank cards. Check to see if any unauthorized transactions have occurred.

Secondly, check your credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax).

The US government has made it law that you are allowed to obtain one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus. A dedicated website has been set up for that purpose at: AnnualCreditReport.com.

Be sure to use the above site and not others that have a similar name that will actually charge you.

At annualcreditreport.com you can choose which credit reporting agency you wish to obtain your free credit report from, and you’ll be able to download by filling out a simple form that verifies your identity. You’ll need to repeat the process again at the website for each bureau.

Check your free credit report every four months

Since your credit activity is duplicated among all three bureaus, anything new that popped up at one agency will show up on all the others simultaneously.

A good rule of thumb, since you can get one from each agency every twelve months, is to make it a habit of downloading one credit report every four months, that way, you can check your credit for free three times per year.

3. Lockdown accounts if necessary

If your credit or bank card has been compromised, lock them down immediately. Most online banking and credit card accounts provide a user-controlled option within your account where you can shut your cards down yourself. If not, call the financial institution connected with your cards immediately for assistance.

4. Freeze your credit

Another step you can take if you have been compromised is to place a freeze on your credit. This will prevent anyone else from making a credit inquiry and opening a new credit account using your information. You will have to contact (via online portal or by telephone) each one of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) separately to freeze your credit with that agency. Online accounts with these agencies allow you to personally turn your credit freeze on and off, sometimes supplying you with a pin number for doing so.