Guest Post: NordVPN Discusses How Stolen Data Is Sold and Used

Headlines about massive data breaches affecting millions of users have never been so frequent as now. In March, a security breach involving an email marketing company may have exposed the private data of 800 million people. This makes it one of the biggest data breaches so far, potentially affecting about 1 out of every 9 people. But where do all these huge datasets go after the leak, and is it really possible to save your data from a breach?

“Many people still believe that hackers are not interested in them,” says Daniel Markuson, a digital privacy expert at NordVPN. “People often imagine cybercriminals like fishermen, patiently waiting for the right fish to show up. In reality, they are more like fishing boats that use nets to catch as much as possible at once. Afterwards, they can benefit from the vast amounts of stolen data in many different ways.”

According to digital privacy expert, the data can be exploited to no end, from blackmail and corporate espionage to identity theft. The stolen data is usually sold on the dark web market that offers anonymity to hackers and buyers or open websites created for two to three days.

Daniel Markuson provides an overview of how your data can be stolen, where it usually goes after the breach, and how you can protect yourself online.

 

How data can be stolen

  1. Downloading unverified content. By downloading unverified apps, games, movies, or browser extensions, you can infect your device with viruses or spyware. It is an easy way to lose your personal information, such as credit card numbers.
  2. A leak from the entity that handles your data. By now, it is hard to imagine a day without confidential user data being hacked or leaked from one company or another. Breaches usually occur via the web and email, but can also happen through mobile data storage devices such as optical media, USB keys, and laptops.
  1. Phishing emails or text messages. Phishing attempts most often begin with an email designed to obtain sensitive information. Such messages pretend to come from a legitimate source, such as banks, government bodies, or company leadership. They are constructed to elicit fear, curiosity, or a sense of urgency to click on a malicious link or download an infected attachment.
  2. Unprotected portable devices. USB sticks, smartphones, flash memory cards, or other easy-to-lose gadgets may become an easy data source for anyone who finds one.
  1. Skimming devices. Your financial data can be stolen using skimming devices. These devices can also memorize your PINs.

 

Why data is bought

  1. Advertising and targeting. Stolen data on individuals’ habits, preferences, and personalities helps target ads more precisely.
  2. Surveillance and spying. Hacked personal data can open the doors for stalking, tracking, monitoring, and harassment of the victim.
  3. Identity theft and impersonation. Cybercriminals can commit financial crimes in your name. That may include anything from fake tax returns or illicit money transfers to insurance claims or loan applications.
  4. Spam or phishing attacks. Your stolen data can help criminals launch phishing attacks and disrupt systems or access confidential information.
  5. Blackmail, extortion, and hacktivism. It can be anything from ransomware attacks to cyber blackmail.

 

How to stay safe

“Cybersecurity starts with vigilance,” says Daniel Markuson, a digital privacy expert at NordVPN. “Two-factor authentication, secure storage of your passwords, and use of unique, strong, and complex passwords can protect your data from falling into the wrong hands.”

Regular updates of all your devices can prevent criminals from using weaknesses in the OS and apps. You should also avoid making online payments on public Wi-Fi or at least use a reputable VPN, such as NordVPN, to stay safe on unsecured networks.

However, according to Daniel Markuson, even the most advanced security tools will not protect you without your own input. They won’t help if you are not careful about the kinds of websites you visit or links you click. You should always be cautious about giving away your personal or financial details anywhere on the internet.

 

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