According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, there were at least 662 data breaches in 2010, which exposed more than 16 million records. Nearly two-thirds of breaches exposed Social Security numbers, and 26% involved credit or debit card data.
The ITRC elaborated, “Other than breaches reported by the media and a few progressive state websites, there is little or no information available on many data breach events that occur. It is clear that without a mandatory national reporting requirement, many data breaches will continue to be unreported, or under-reported.”
The majority of these attacks were malicious hacks or insider theft, rather than the result of employee errors. InformationWeek reports, “Some states, but not all, have data breach notification laws, which require any organization that suffers a breach to notify that state’s affected residents. Interestingly, the ITRC found that information about 29% of the 662 reported breaches for 2010 could be credited to authorities in those states.”
The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse’s Chronology of Data Breaches found that more than 500 million sensitive records have been breached in the past five years. Examples of incidents in which personal data is compromised, lost, or stolen include “employees losing laptop computers, hackers downloading credit card numbers and sensitive personal data accidentally exposed online.”
Cases of identity theft are skyrocketing, and 32% of all identity theft victims had their Social Security numbers compromised.
Now more than ever, criminal hackers are hacking into databases that contain Social Security numbers and using those numbers to open new financial accounts, or to obtain credit cards, mobile phones, or even bank loans. Some victims have had their mortgages refinanced and their equity stripped.
To protect yourself from a similar fate, you can:
1. Refuse to provide your Social Security number.
2. Invest in an identity protection service. There are times when you cannot withhold your Social Security number, but an identity protection service can monitor your personal and financial data. McAfee Identity Protection provides alerts if your information is misused, credit monitoring and unlimited credit checks, and if necessary, identity fraud resolution. (For more information, visit CounterIdentityTheft.com.)
3. Protect your PC. McAfee Total Protection software provides the most effective protection of the data stored on your computer against virus, online and network threats.
Robert Siciliano is a McAfee consultant and identity theft expert. See him discuss the use of Social Security numbers as national identification on Fox News. (Disclosures)