How Do I Know if My Data Was Breached?

When we hear “data breach,” our heartbeats tend to quicken. From bank account details to Social Security numbers, we store most of our valuable information digitally, making it susceptible to breaches.

But what is a data breach, how can you tell if someone has accessed your data, what immediate steps should you take after a data breach, and how can you prevent this cyber catastrophe?

How Do I Know if My Data Was Breached

In this blog, you’ll learn how to recognize a data breach and what to do if someone breaches your data. Prevention is always better than cure, so we give tips to fortify your data security and prevent potential breaches and outline the role companies play in protecting your data.

Keep reading to learn more.

Understanding Data Breaches

Before diving into the signs of a data breach and how to handle the situation, we must understand what it is, how it occurs, the most common types, and the consequences.

What Is a Data Breach?

In a data breach, unauthorized individuals gain access to secure, confidential, or sensitive information, including personal data such as your Social Security number, bank account details, email addresses, and passwords, often with malicious intent.

How Do Data Breaches Occur?

Weak or stolen credentials, application vulnerabilities, or malicious insiders can cause data breaches. Companies can experience data breaches, compromising your data. No matter the cause, your data falls into the wrong hands.

Common Types of Data Breaches

The most common types of data breaches include theft, where the perpetrator steals data from the hardware; email phishing, which tricks individuals into sharing sensitive data; and malware attacks, which install harmful software to collect data.

The Effects of Data Breaches

Data breaches can result in identity theft, financial loss, and significant stress. For companies, a data breach can result in hard-to-repair, hefty financial penalties, loss of customer trust, and reputational damage.

Signs of a Data Breach

The sooner you detect a breach, the better your chances of minimizing the damage. But you might not notice someone has accessed your data until you experience a problem.

Here are some signs that you may be the victim of a data breach.

Unusual Account Activity

You may first notice unusual activity on your accounts. You might log into your email account and notice that someone else has read your emails, or perhaps you cannot log into your accounts because someone has changed your passwords. If you notice any of these issues, someone else may be accessing your accounts.

Unrecognized Charges on Your Bank Statements

Examine your bank statements for purchases or transactions you do not recognize. Fraudsters often test the waters with small purchases, so watch out for those, as well as more substantial unauthorized transactions.

Strange Emails or Messages

You might notice unusual emails or messages, such as spam or phishing emails or messages thanking you for a purchase or subscription you never authorized.

Data Breach Notification from a Company

If a company you do business with notifies you about a data breach, hackers might have stolen sensitive data, such as your credit card information or Social Security number.

Credit Report Discrepancies

Regularly checking your credit report can help you detect data breaches. If you notice new accounts opened in your name that you did not authorize, someone may have breached your data.

Identity Theft

One of the most serious consequences of a data breach is identity theft. If you notice someone is taking out loans in your name or you receive a notification about a tax return filed in your name when you have not done so, it can be a sure sign of a data breach.

Early detection is crucial to avoid or limit the damage a data breach can cause, so stay vigilant and monitor your accounts for suspicious activity.

What to Do if You Experience a Data Breach

Data Breached

To mitigate the negative consequences of a data breach, immediately report the breach to the relevant authorities and seek legal advice after a data breach.

Immediate Steps to Take After a Data Breach

The moment you suspect a data breach, change your passwords, especially for financial accounts and accounts containing sensitive personal information. Conduct a thorough security audit of your email accounts, which can often allow hackers to access other accounts.

Alert your bank and credit card companies and monitor your financial statements closely for unusual activity. Set up account activity alerts, if possible, so that you can receive real-time updates on account activity.

Take advantage of credit monitoring services, particularly if the data breach included your Social Security number. These services alert you to changes in your credit file, making it easier to spot and stop unauthorized activities.

How to Report a Data Breach

Report the breach to the relevant authorities once you have performed these immediate tasks. Reporting to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can alert others about the breach and provide you with advice tailored to your situation. You can file a report through the FTC’s official website.

The Role of Law Enforcement in a Data Breach

It may be necessary to contact local law enforcement, especially in severe cases involving identity theft or significant financial loss. Law enforcement agencies can collaborate with you and the FTC to investigate the breach and hold the perpetrators accountable.

The Importance of Legal Advice Following a Data Breach

Consider hiring a lawyer, especially if the breach leads to a significant financial setback or severely compromises your personal data. Experienced cybersecurity and data privacy lawyers can be instrumental in navigating the complex aftermath of a data breach. They can decide on the steps to take and advise you on how to recover financial losses, if possible.

Taking these steps can help you manage a data breach effectively. The faster you respond to a data breach, the better your chance of minimizing its negative effects.

Preventing Data Breaches

It is better to prevent a data breach than deal with one.

You can safeguard your personal data and significantly lessen the odds of a data breach.

This section discusses data security best practices, the role of strong passwords and two-factor authentication, the importance of regularly updating your software and systems, and tips for safeguarding your personal information online.

Best Practices for Data Security

The core of data security lies in being attentive to how you manage your personal data online. Always use secure and encrypted internet connections, especially when handling sensitive data. Limit the personal information you share online and be wary of unsolicited requests for data. Protect your systems by using security tools, such as antivirus software and firewalls.

Strong Passwords and Two-Factor Authentication

A simple, effective strategy for data security is using strong passwords. Create complex and unique passwords for each of your accounts.

Regularly change your passwords and avoid using identifiable information in your passwords, such as names, birthdates, and anniversaries, because this information is easy for people to guess. Couple a strong password with two-factor authentication to provide an extra layer of security, significantly reducing the risk of unauthorized access to your accounts.

Software and System Updates

Regularly updating your software and systems is another critical step in preventing data breaches. Updates often contain security enhancements and patches for known vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit. You can increase your defense against potential data breaches by keeping your systems up-to-date.

Safeguard Personal Information Online

  • Never share personal information online except with secure, trusted sites.
  • Avoid storing sensitive information, such as credit card details, on websites or apps.
  • Regularly monitor your financial statements for unusual activity.
  • Only download attachments or click links if they come from trusted sources.

There is no surefire way to prevent data breaches, but taking these proactive steps can significantly mitigate the risk.

The Role of Companies in Protecting Customer Data

While individuals bear some responsibility for protecting their data, companies that collect, store, and use your data have a significant role and responsibility in securing your data.

This section discusses companies’ obligations in data security, the consequences of failing to protect customer data, and the steps companies should take to prevent data breaches.

Companies’ Responsibilities in Data Security

Companies are custodians of your data, including simple demographic information and complex financial data. Data protection laws and regulations impose the responsibility on these companies to protect your data from unauthorized access, breaches, or loss.

They must establish robust data protection strategies, such as using encrypted connections and secure storage solutions and conducting regular intrusion tests. They should have contingency plans, including immediate data breach notification processes and action plans to reduce the negative consequences of breaches.

Consequences of Failing to Protect Customer Data

Companies that fail to protect customer data face severe consequences, including legal action, fines, and sanctions from regulatory bodies. Companies also often face reputational damage and the loss of customer trust and business.

In today’s digital age, news of data breaches can spread quickly, damaging a company’s reputation almost instantly. Every company must prioritize data security to safeguard their reputation and maintain customer trust.

Andrew Finkelstein Jacoby & Meyers LLP

Data Privacy Lawyer, Andrew Finkelstein

Get the Legal Help You Need After a Data Breach Has Compromised Your Information

Data security is not a luxury but a necessity in today’s technologically advanced and interconnected world. Everyone, from the young tech-savvy user to the elderly, must be aware of the dangers lurking online, especially those concerning data breaches. Companies handling customer data must shoulder data protection responsibility and implement the necessary preventative measures to prevent potential breaches.

Whether you’re an individual valuing your privacy or a company striving to keep customers’ trust, stay informed about data breaches. We must all watch for the signs of a breach and know the immediate steps to mitigate its negative consequences.

If you are a victim of a severe data breach, do not hesitate to hire a lawyer. A data privacy lawyer can navigate the complex landscape of data breach laws and work to recover your losses.