Security lessons from 2019’s biggest data breaches
2019 already feels like it’s worlds away, but the data breaches many consumers faced last year are likely to have lasting effects. As we look back on 2019, it’s important to reflect on how our online security has been affected by various threats. With that said, let’s take a look at the biggest breaches of the year and how they’ve affected users everywhere.
Capital one breach
In late July, approximately 100 million Capital One users in the U.S. and 6 million in Canada were affected by a breach exposing about 140,000 Social Security numbers, 1 million Canadian Social Insurance numbers, 80,000 bank account numbers, and more. As one of the 10 largest banks based on U.S. deposits, the financial organization was certainly poised as an ideal target for a hacker to carry out a large-scale attack. The alleged hacker claimed that the data was obtained through a firewall misconfiguration, allowing for command execution with a server that granted access to data in Capital One’s storage space.
In early September, a security researcher found an online database exposing 419 million user phone numbers linked to Facebook accounts. The exposed server was left without password protection, so anyone with internet access could find the database. The breached records contained a user’s unique Facebook ID and the phone number associated with the account. In some instances, the records also revealed the user’s name, gender, and location by country.
Collection #1 breach
Last January, we met Collection #1, a monster data set that exposed 772,904,991 unique email addresses and over 21 million unique passwords. Security researcher Troy Hunt first discovered this data set on the popular cloud service MEGA, specifically uncovering a folder holding over 12,000 files. Due to the sheer volume of the breach, the data was likely comprised of multiple breaches. When the storage site was taken down, the folder was then transferred to a public hacking site, available for anyone to take for free.
Less than two months after Collection #1, researchers discovered a 150-gigabyte database containing 809 million records exposed by the email validation firm Verifications.io. This company provides a service for email marketing firms to outsource the extensive work involved with validating mass amounts of emails. This service also helps email marketing firms avoid the risk of having their infrastructure blacklisted by spam filters. Therefore, Verifications.io was entrusted with a lot of data, creating an information-heavy database complete with names, email addresses, phone numbers, physical addresses, gender, date of birth, personal mortgage amounts, interest rates, and more.
In mid-June, Orvibo, a smart home platform designed to help users manage their smart appliances, left an Elasticsearch server (a highly scalable search and analytics engine that allows users to store, search, and analyze big volumes of data in real-time) online without password protection. The exposure left at least two billion log entries each containing customer data open to the public. This data included customer email addresses, the IP address of the smart home devices, Orvibo usernames, and hashed passwords, or, unreadable strings of characters that are designed to be impossible to convert back into the original password.
What users can learn from data breaches
Data breaches serve as a reminder that users and companies alike should do everything in their power to keep personal information protected. As technology continues to become more advanced, online threats will also evolve to become more sophisticated. So now more than ever, it’s imperative that users prioritize the security of their digital presence, especially in the face of massive data leaks. If you think you might have been affected by a data breach or want to take the necessary precautions to safeguard your information, follow these tips to help you stay secure:
- Research before you buy. Although you might be eager to get the latest new device, some are made more secure than others. Look for devices that make it easy to disable unnecessary features, update software, or change default passwords. If you already have an older device that lacks these features, consider upgrading.
- Be vigilant when monitoring your personal and financial data. A good way to determine whether your data has been exposed or compromised is to closely monitor your online accounts. If you see anything fishy, take extra precautions by updating your privacy settings, changing your password, or using two-factor authentication.
- Use strong, unique passwords. Make sure to use complex passwords for each of your accounts, and never reuse your credentials across different platforms. It’s also a good idea to update your passwords consistently to further protect your data.
- Enable two-factor authentication. While a strong and unique password is a good first line of defense, enabling app-based two-factor authentication across your accounts will help your cause by providing an added layer of security.
- Use a comprehensive security solution. These solutions will help to safeguard your devices and data from known vulnerabilities and emerging threats.