Data breaches have become a stress-inducing hazard in the modern world; here are some ideas to minimize your risk
If you keep up to date with the news, chances are you’ll have come across a story where a cyber-security incident has led to personal data being leaked online. Data breach experts are seeing the effects of this more and more, with sensitive data being exposed almost every day.
Of course, the most immediate issue following any data breach is the risk of victims being financially compromised. That being said, many people fail to realize that experiencing a data breach can also have a wide range of effects on an individual’s mental health.
In this post, we’ll discuss some of the ways in which a data breach might affect a victim’s mental health. We’ll then offer some useful tips to help avoid it from ever becoming an issue.
How can a Data Breach affect someone’s mental health?
Data breaches come in many different forms, and different types of data can be breached depending on what actions the organization responsible took.
Commercial Data Breach
When it comes to commercial data breaches, most organizations that hold your personal data will have records of things like:
- Your name
- Your address
- Your contact details
- Partial bank account information (for instance the first four numbers of your account)
For obvious reasons, most organizations should not have records of sensitive information (like login details, passwords and full bank account information). Even still, when your data is breached, no matter how inconsequential it may seem, you will still be losing your privacy, so feelings of stress and anxiety are completely natural.
These feelings can also be exacerbated if you feel as though the organization who was responsible for holding your data is not taking the situation seriously enough, or you believe their response was not entirely appropriate.
Individual Data Breach
Where an individual is responsible for leaking their own personal data, there could be a number of potential explanations. A personal data breach may be due to a lack of security software, or by falling victim to a ‘phishing’ attack.
These attacks, carried out by cybercriminals, can be used to extract even further information. For instance, a criminal may use your email address to then ask you to provide your online banking details.
If you’re being harassed by phishing attacks, it’s entirely understandable why your mental health may suffer as a result.
What steps can you take to protect your data?
While you may not be able to directly control what a business who holds your personal data does, there are a number of steps you can take to help protect yourself.
1.) Avoid Using Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi networks create a data breach risk. Home (or private) Wi-Fi networks are encrypted, which means that unauthorized users are unable to access your network and subsequently obtain personal information, or use your network for malicious activity.
Public Wi-Fi networks are not encrypted, so people will be able to monitor your online activity and exploit security flaws to intercept your data.
2.) Create Strong Passwords
It may seem obvious, but it’s surprising how many people use the same password for every account they have online. Often times, these passwords are not strong and are easily guessed, which means your data can be easily compromised.
It may be a good idea to invest in a secure password manager which will allow you to safely store the different passwords you use for your online accounts.
3.) Be Aware of Privacy Settings
Most websites and applications offer privacy settings for their users. If you carefully assess the privacy settings on a site, you will have better control over how much and what sort of information is shared. It’s always a good idea to share as little data as possible.
4.) Avoid Untrustworthy Sites
When you’re using the internet, it’s best practice to avoid any sites which appear untrustworthy. This is especially true if you are engaging in online shopping.
One of the easiest ways to tell if a site is trustworthy is to see if there is a padlock symbol next to the URL. This will mean the site has a signature that is encrypted, increasing its security.
5.) Back up Your Data
Ransomware attacks are where a cybercriminal steals your personal data, demanding a ransom to be paid while it is held hostage. For that reason, you would be well advised to back up your data, potentially using a cloud-based service, that prevents ransoms from becoming an issue.
What should you do in the event of a data breach?
Even if you take every possible step to reduce the risk of a data breach occurring, there is no definitive guarantee that you’ll be protected. But not all is lost! To avoid letting a breach negatively affect your mental health, you can:
1.) Contact a Data Breach Specialist
If you know that your data has been compromised in a breach, possibly because an organization has got in touch to inform you of the situation, you should always discuss your options with a data breach specialist.
In certain circumstances, you may be entitled to compensation following a data breach. A specialist can work with you to clarify whether this is the case, discuss how much you could be entitled to, and guide you through the general claims process.
2.) Contact Your Bank or Financial Provider
If you know that your data has been compromised, you should speak to your bank or financial provider to let them know what the situation looks like. They’ll be able to closely monitor your financial activity and shut down your account if there appears to be an immediate issue.
3.) Carefully Monitor Communication
As we discussed earlier, phishing attacks can be a real issue following a data breach, so you need to be extra vigilant. Any communication that appears to be from an organization you associate with (such as your bank) should be carefully scrutinized. You should not click any links or open any attachments that appear to be unsafe.
4.) Report the Issue to the Information Commissioner’s Office
If the data breach in question was caused by an organization, then they should always report it immediately to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
However, if the organization in question hasn’t self-reported, then you can take matters into your own hands. The ICO will launch an investigation which will help to clarify how the data breach occurred. This will be very useful if you intend to make a claim for compensation.
Are you concerned about the mental health impacts of a data breach?
Data breaches can be a daunting prospect, and it’s easy to suffer as a result of becoming a victim. But, by taking these tips on board, you should be able to manage the potential impact, and move forward with your life in confidence.
You may also enjoy reading Electrosensitivity: When the Modern World Hurts, by Alison Main.