Breaches exposed 22.8 million personal records of New Yorkers

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued a new report examining the growing number, complexity, and costs of data breaches in the New York State.

The report reveals that the number of reported data security breaches in New York more than tripled between 2006 and 2013. In that same period, 22.8 million personal records of New Yorkers have been exposed in nearly 5,000 data breaches, which have cost the public and private sectors in New York upward of $1.37 billion in 2013.

In addition, the report also found that hacking intrusions – in which third parties gain unauthorized access to data stored on a computer system – were the leading cause of data security breaches, accounting for roughly 40 percent of all breaches.

“As we increasingly share our personal information with stores, restaurants, health care providers and other organizations, we should be able to enjoy the benefits of new technology without putting ourselves at risk. Unfortunately, our expansive look at data breaches found that millions of New Yorkers have been exposed without their knowledge or consent. It’s clear that a broad, concerted public education campaign must take place to ensure that all of us – from large corporations, to small businesses and families – are better protected,” said Attorney General Schneiderman.

“Moving forward, I will advocate for collaboration between industry and security experts to ensure that organizations across the state and country have access to the tools needed to secure our data, so we can best address this complex and growing problem,” Schneiderman added.

2013 was a record-setting year in data security breaches, during which 7.3 million records of New Yorkers were exposed in more than 900 data security breaches. The massive number of affected New Yorkers in 2013 was largely driven by two retail mega-breaches at Target and Living Social, which have led some to dub 2013 “The Year of the Retailer Breach.” So-called mega-breaches have also becoming increasingly common: Five of the 10 largest breaches reported to the Attorney General’s Office have occurred since 2011.

No organization is exempt from this trend: In the eight-year period analyzed by today’s report, a widely diverse set of organizations ranging from local family businesses to large multinational corporations reported data security breaches to the Attorney General’s Office. While the most recent and widely publicized mega-breaches have involved retailers, data breaches have also impacted the health care and financial services industries.

The demand on secondary markets for stolen information remains robust. Freshly acquired stolen credit card numbers can fetch up to $45 per record, while other types of personal information, such as Social Security numbers and online account information, can command even higher prices. Non-financial information can be even more valuable, as fraudulent use is more difficult to detect and the information can be used for a broader range of purposes. For example, a stolen Facebook account can provide an access point to a wide range of user accounts, or can be used as a vehicle to steal information from others within that individual’s social network.

Despite the risks posed by data security breaches, individuals and organizations can take practical steps to better guard themselves from threats. While it may be impossible to completely prevent data loss, organizations that implement data security plans can greatly reduce the harm caused by a data security breach. In addition, individuals can remain vigilant and take action to protect themselves against breaches.

The Attorney General’s Office suggests that consumers guard against threats in the following ways:

  • Create strong passwords for online accounts and update them frequently. Use different passwords for different accounts, especially for websites where you have disseminated sensitive information, such as credit card or Social Security numbers.
  • Carefully monitor credit card and debit card statements each month.If you find any abnormal transactions, contact your bank or credit card agency immediately.
  • Do not write down or store passwords electronically. If you do, be extremely careful of where you store passwords. Be aware that any passwords stored electronically (such as in a word processing document or cell phone’s notepad) can be easily stolen and provide fraudsters with one-stop shopping for all your sensitive information. If you hand-write passwords, do not store them in plain sight.
  • Do not post any sensitive information on social media.Information such as birthdays, addresses, and phone numbers can be used by fraudsters to authenticate account information. Practice data minimization techniques. Don’t overshare.
  • Always be aware of the current threat landscape. Stay up to date on media reports of data security breaches and consumer advisories.

The complete report is available here.

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