The internet is a fantastic place to learn, engage, and connect with people across the globe. From browsing social media to performing critical work tasks, the internet has become a regular, important part of our everyday lives. The average person spends almost 7 hours a day online. That's around half of the day!
And during these browsing sessions, we're sharing a ton of data. As a whole, we generate 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day online. By next year, estimates show that the average person will generate 1.7MB of data per second spent online. But, while the internet was certainly created to connect us in novel ways, it wasn't created with privacy in mind.
What happens to all of that data you're sharing online? Does it get tucked away into secure vaults? Or are you putting yourself at risk every time you open a browser?
Understanding Data Security in 2020
We're in the midst of a data security crisis. 33% of US adults have faced identity theft. In the first half of 2019, over 4.1 billion records were stolen by threat actors. And 71% of those attacks were financially motivated. Hackers want your information. From stolen credit cards to identity fraud, every digital interaction you make has the potential to land you in some serious financial trouble.
The average identity theft attack costs over $1,300. That means that a third of the US adult population faces over $1,000 in damages simply from browsing the internet, engaging with websites, and inputting personal information.
But that's just the surface. Hackers most commonly target businesses. Every piece of information you share online with businesses leaves you vulnerable. If they get hacked, so does your data. MyFitnessPal got hacked, and threat actors made away with 150 million records. MyHeritage left 92 million users at risk. Quora lost 100 million accounts' data. The list goes on and on.
The Three Biggest Enemies of Data Privacy
Let's look at some of the most common ways hackers hijack users' personal information.
1. Coffee Shop Hackers
Chances are, you've connected to a local WiFi connection at a coffee shop near you or at your local supermarket. After all, WiFi speeds are typically faster than 4G, and your laptop certainly isn't going to perform at optimal levels on a hotspot. But every time you connect to a public WiFi connection, you're putting yourself at risk. Man-in-the-middle and various other attacks can be used by anyone connected to that same public WiFi to hijack your information.
These attacks are easily mitigated by Virtual Private Networks that encrypt your connection before sending it to the internet (try this free VPN alternative), but what about your laptop's signal? Hackers are now looking for low signal devices and using AM/FM receiver combined with software to hijack passwords and usernames without needing to hack the connection or the laptop.
The most common way that users' information gets hacked is when businesses get hacked. But it's not just big brands like MyFitnessPal that are losing customer data. Over 60% of small businesses get hacked each year. In fact, a business is getting hacked every 39 seconds on average. So, despite all of the cloud architecture, security teams, and security policies that businesses have in place to protect your data, they are probably the last people you want touching it.
This problem is being mitigated by GDPR and other emerging laws, but it certainly isn't going to get fixed overnight. The easiest way to prevent your information from being stolen is to simply not share it. Rather, share "as little as possible." Reducing your data footprint reduces your security vulnerability.
3. Sharing and Caring
The last two entry methods for hackers are relatively easy to avoid. You can simply use a VPN in a coffee shop and avoid handing out sensitive information to businesses, right? But what if your data was being sold without you knowing it? And what if your ISP was collecting your data (e.g., location data, browsing data, etc.) and selling it off to companies who aggregate this data?
Well... that's what's happening. Your personal data is like a hot potato. Internet service providers, businesses, social media websites, etc. are all passing your data around faster than they get their hands on it.
This is where we arrive at an impasse. There's no way to ensure that any data that you share online is secure. Using a VPN will help you prevent immediate threats, but the long-term threat of data sharing across businesses still exists. And given that businesses require information before offering you products/services, there isn't a tangible solution to this problem.
Here's the big secret. Sharing your data online is dangerous. But it's also unavoidable. Luckily, policies on the horizon are focused on putting the power back in consumers' hands. CPPA will require businesses to give consumers an "opt-out" button, and GDPR protects against some of the more nefarious data exchanges between businesses and third parties. But we still have a long way to go. For now, grab a VPN, share as-little-as-possible, and be safe — identity theft isn't cheap.