Data Breaches: Impacts and Steps to Protect Your Personal Information

Last Updated on August 16, 2023

It’s a little overwhelming when you stop and think about all the places holding your personal information. 

You have trusted many businesses and government entities with your name, address, credit card numbers, and probably much more. 

You just kind of trust that they will protect your information because you don’t want to think about the alternative

Unfortunately, though, the alternative happens far too often. According to Statista, more than 1,800 data breaches occurred in the United States in 2022, affecting the records of more than 422 million people. That’s more people than the total number of Americans, meaning some were victims multiple times. 

If you are the victim of a data breach, your risk of suffering identity theft increases significantly. 

💯 Act Now: Identity theft from data breaches is a major problem, but you can protect yourself! Get Aura’s alerts, protection, and identity theft insurance today.

Governments have numerous laws on the books that attempt to protect consumers when they are victims of a data breach. However, you still need to be proactive about protecting yourself. After all, hackers typically aren’t too interested in following the law.

We’ll explain some of the impacts of data breaches for victims, as well as steps you can take to give yourself the best chance at protecting your personal information after a data breach.

What Happens in a Data Breach?

In a data breach, hackers gain access to the data storage area of a company, government entity, or similar organization. 

Often, such entities digitally store data about customers, students, or citizens. If hackers can access this information, they may be able to use the data to steal your identity or take over parts of your life.

It’s not unusual for entities to store items like:

  • Your name
  • Social Security number
  • Medicare number
  • Copies of photo IDs
  • Phone numbers
  • Mailing addresses
  • Account numbers
  • Credit card numbers
  • Usernames and passwords

How Does a Data Breach Work?

How Does a Data Breach Work

Hackers have several options for trying to execute a data breach, including:

  • Cracking security: A hacker may find a security flaw in a company’s network through regular probing of the network. By exploiting this flaw, the hacker can access sensitive information stored on the network.
  • Inside job: The hacker may work for the company, accessing and stealing the data as an employee. A third-party entity that does on-site tech work also could steal the data as part of an inside job.
  • Phishing attack: The hacker may send someone in the company a phishing email, convincing an employee to click on a malicious link. This link may lead to a malware download that the hacker can use to access the network.
  • Social attack: The hacker may pose as a security team member and target one of the organization’s executives with a fake story about needing the exec’s username and password. With this information, the hacker can access sensitive data on the network.
  • Stealing a device: The hacker may gain access to the network by stealing a company-issued laptop or smartphone. If the company doesn’t use things like two-factor authentication (2FA), stealing a device might be enough to execute a data breach.

Depending on the hacker’s actions, the company may not immediately catch the data breach. If the hacker is subtle, it could be weeks or months before the company finds the breach and can end it.

Why Do Hackers Target Large Organizations?

Rather than trying to steal your personal information from your devices, hackers prefer to go after large corporations. Why? 

Because, if successful, they could find information for thousands of people simultaneously

It’s also more likely that network holes exist in a large computer network at a company with thousands of employees. If the tech team at the company is overworked or understaffed – or both – they may not catch security holes before the hacker finds them.

Related: Do Scammers Have Remote Access to Your Computer?

What Happens When a Company Loses Your Personal Information in a Data Breach?

Legally, companies are supposed to notify consumers if the company suffers a data breach that puts their personal information at risk. 

All 50 U.S. states and some U.S. territories have security breach notification laws in place. 

However, some companies don’t want to suffer the embarrassment of publicly acknowledging a data breach, so they try to hide the information. Hiding a data breach can lead to a delay in receiving notification of the problem, leaving your personal information exposed. 

The Impact of a Data Breach

From a business perspective, data breaches could expose all kinds of information about the company.

The hacker could steal sensitive business files or financial information about the company. The hacker may even launch a cyberattack against the business as part of the data breach, including a ransomware attack.

However, for you as a consumer, the more dangerous part of a data breach occurs when hackers steal the personal information that the company stores about you. We’ll discuss some of the impacts that the data breach could have on your personal life.

Selling Your Information on the Dark Web

Once a hacker has some personal information, the plan may be to turn a quick buck. By selling this information on the dark web, the hacker can receive a payoff quickly. 

Should another hacker purchase your stolen information and be able to match it to other stolen information from a different data breach, the new hacker may be able to try to steal your identity.

Using Your Credit Cards

If the hacker gains access to your credit card information through fraud or something like a skimmer, the hacker may use it to make purchases in your name

The credit card company protects you against someone using your credit card information to make purchases. However, you still could have some frustrations trying to fix the situation. For example, you may see the credit card company freeze your card, leaving you without access until it solves the issue.

Accessing Your Bank Accounts

If the hacker can access your bank accounts, this can be a serious problem. Banks may not give you and your money the same protection as credit card companies when you have a breach like this. 

It’s important to let your bank know when you notice something odd happening with your account, which should limit your liability.

Accessing Your Digital Accounts

If a hacker can steal a username and password as part of the breach, the hacker could steal access to your email account, Facebook account, or another type of account. The hacker could access your account and change the password immediately, locking you out of your account.

By stealing your email account, the hacker could launch phishing attacks against the people in your email contact list, potentially exposing them to a loss of personal information.

Any of these actions from a hacker could upend your digital life quickly after a data breach.

Stealing Your Medical Information

A hacker could steal several items related to your health care, including your health insurance policy. Someone posing as you could give the hospital your health insurance information, leaving you stuck with the bill after the insurance company denies the fake claim.

The hacker also could take your Medicare number and pose as you, committing medical identity fraud.

Exposing Sensitive Information About You

If a hacker finds compromising photos or information about you through hacking your social media accounts, you could be a victim of blackmail

The hacker may threaten to publicly reveal the photos or information or send them to people in your contact list. You would need to pay a ransom to stop the hacker from blackmailing you.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that the hacker will fix your accounts after you pay. The hacker may also make copies of your sensitive information. The blackmailing requests may continue even after you pay the first one.

Controlling Your Smart Home Devices

If the hacker can use the data stolen in the breach to access your email account, this could lead to further problems. If you use your email address as a username for multiple accounts and use the same password in multiple places, the hacker may be able to take control of smart home devices or your security system.

You may have to pay a ransom to regain access to your network. Again, though, you have no guarantee that the hacker will follow through and return control of the devices to you.

Stealing Your Identity

Ultimately, if the hacker can steal enough of your personal data in the breach, the hacker could attempt to steal your identity. This would be the most likely outcome after a data breach that reveals quite a bit of your personal information.

The consequences of being the victim of identity theft include having a thief:

  • Open loans in your name
  • Sign up for credit cards in your name
  • Ruin your credit score
  • Steal money from your personal accounts
  • Force you to hire attorneys to help you regain access to your identity
  • Steal your tax refund
  • Take your health insurance information
  • Attempt to steal the title to your home

When you subscribe to an identity theft protection service, you could receive an early warning about your personal information being in danger. You then could try to protect your information and alert the credit bureaus about the potential fraud occurring.

Steps to Take to Protect Yourself from Data Breaches

Steps to Take to Protect Yourself from Data Breaches

Protecting yourself from fraud and scams after a data breach can be easier if you are always on alert. If you constantly follow safe online practices, you give yourself the best chance at avoiding issues related to losing some personal information in a data breach.

You can also take steps after you receive notification from an entity that a breach potentially exposed your personal information. Here are some tips to help you avoid the worst-case scenario after a data breach.

Subscribe to an Identity Theft Protection Service

One of the best ways to monitor your personal information is by subscribing to an ID theft protection service.

This service monitors the dark web and legitimate websites for signs that your identity is at risk. Because the monitoring service is constantly at work, it may even notify you of a data breach before the company that suffered the breach notifies you.

Identity theft protection services can monitor a wide range of information for you, helping you spot potential fraud in multiple areas.

Our favorite identity theft protection service is Aura, and you can see why in our Aura product review. However, you may prefer a different option. 

💯 Act Now: You can get a 14-day free trial and 70% off Aura’s identity theft protection service today. Don’t wait until after the fact!

The bottom line? Having any identity theft protection service watching your back gives you a great chance at catching the early signs of potential identity theft, giving you time to try to fix it before damage occurs.

Update Your Passwords

If you receive notification of a data breach, it’s a smart idea to change your passwords immediately. Make sure they are complex passwords, using a combination of:

  • Lowercase letters
  • Uppercase letters
  • Numbers
  • Symbols

Passwords of at least 12 characters are the safest. 

Also, do not use the same password on every account. If your password for one account suffers exposure through a data breach, and if you use that same password on every account, the hacker can potentially access every account you have.

Using password management software is a good idea to help you track these complex passwords.

Set Up Two-Factor Authentication for All Accounts

One of the best ways to protect your accounts is to set up two-factor authentication (2FA) on them.

With 2FA enabled, you enter your username and password like normal. You then would receive a second challenge, such as needing to enter a code that you receive via text or email. 

If a hacker manages to steal your password for an account with 2FA enabled, the hacker would also need access to your smartphone or email messages to break into your account. It’s unlikely the hacker would have access to everything required.

Yes, taking a second step to gain access to your account is a bit of a hassle. Yet 2FA is a proven strategy for protecting your online accounts.

Notify the Credit Bureaus

If you believe the data breach could put your financial information at risk, contact the credit bureaus of Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Ask them to put a fraud alert on your credit report.

You also may want to freeze your credit report. This prevents anyone – including you – from opening new lines of credit in your name. This is a smart way to protect yourself. 

Should you need to apply for a loan or a new credit card later, just contact the credit bureaus and ask them to unfreeze your credit.

Some identity theft protection services can help you freeze and unfreeze your credit automatically through the software, making this process easier.

Be Wary of Data Breach Notifications

One final bit of advice to protect yourself is to be wary of email messages you receive that notify you of a data breach.

A hacker may generate a fake email about a data breach or malware intrusion. A hacker may trick you into clicking on a malicious link in the email message. The fake email may say that clicking the link can help you fix problems from the breach, but the link installs dangerous malware on your computer. 

If you receive an email like this, don’t click any links. 

Instead, verify that it is legitimate. You may need to call the company’s customer service team. Additionally, a company sending you a notification of a data breach would not ask you to click a link to fix the problem, so this is a sign of a fake email message.

After You Receive Notification of a Data Breach, Don’t Sit Back and Hope for the Best – Be Proactive

After You Receive Notification of a Data Breach, Don’t Sit Back and Hope for the Best – Be Proactive

Although you can take several precautions after you receive notification that you are the victim of a data breach, some of those steps may come too late. 

If the company that allowed your data to be stolen was slow in notifying you or did not detect the data breach for a while, your personal information may have been in jeopardy for months before you realized it.

Theoretically, you could suffer identity theft before realizing you were the victim of a data breach.

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That’s why subscribing to one of the best identity theft protection services is important. These services constantly monitor the Internet and the dark web for signs that your personal information is at risk.

Should a data breach occur, your identity theft protection service will already be hard at work. You can take proactive steps immediately when you receive alerts about your personal information being in danger.

By having an identity theft protection service such as Aura watching your back at all times, you don’t have to spend sleepless nights worrying about whether a data breach will catch you off guard. Your identity theft protection service is always guarding your personal information.