• Digital wallets, an electronic version of payment cards and accounts, and mobile payment apps have become more popular during the global pandemic. U.S. users jumped from 38 percent to 55 percent of smartphone owners in 2020 because they are more convenient and secure for many consumers. They also help serve an important population: the unbanked and underbanked
  • It can be difficult for some households (approximately 7.1 million) to get a bank account for an array of reasons. Digital wallets and mobile payment apps allow those households to make payments, store funds, transfer money to other financial accounts and even write checks depending on the app.  
  • Digital wallets and mobile payment apps can be less risky than traditional payment methods because there are security measures that are not available when someone pays with a physical card or cash. Because digital wallets are contactless, they also represent less of a health risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • To learn more about digital wallets, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 or via live-chat on our website www.idtheftcenter.org.  

Digital wallets and mobile payment apps continue to grow in popularity. In fact, U.S. users jumped from 38 percent to 55 percent of smartphone owners. A digital wallet allows people to carry much of what they would have in their physical wallet on a mobile device. Payment apps are also surging in popularity. According to an article in Newsday, a recent survey sponsored by SimpleTexting, a Miami Beach provider of text messaging software, shows that 81 percent of those polled use cash apps more often since the COVID-19 pandemic. Digital wallets provide people with more payment options and allow them to convert physical cash to an online account to then link to these services, especially those who are unbanked and underbanked

Digital Wallet vs. Mobile Payment App 

A digital wallet is a virtual version of payment cards and financial accounts that can be accessed on a computer or smart device. Some popular digital wallets include ApplePay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay and PayPal. Mobile payment apps are tied to purchases made at a single business such as Starbucks or Walmart, or an app like Venmo that transfers cash to other people as payment. 

The Benefits and Risks of a Digital Wallet and Mobile Payment App 

Digital wallets and mobile payment apps allow people to simplify how they make payments and what they have to carry with them to purchase items. Both kinds of apps enable consumers to complete transactions without using cash while protecting financial account information and passwords. Digital wallets use security protocols, like two-factor authentication and one-time-use PIN numbers. They also use advanced encryption and virtualization techniques that ensure people’s financial information never leaves their actual device.   

However, that does not mean criminals will not target users. Keeping a device secure by using screen locks and device passwords/biometrics is vitally important, along with the ability to remotely disable a smart device if it’s lost or stolen. If a thief gains access to someone’s digital wallet, they may have the ability to make purchases or steal someone’s fundslike one person from Grosse Pointe Farms. There is still the risk of also being tricked into old-fashioned product or service fraud, too. Users of digital wallets and payment apps need to be cautious and only engage in a transaction if it’s part of a purchase or fund transfer they initiate. 

Digital Wallets and Mobile Payment Apps Help the Unbanked and Underbanked 

The FDIC Survey of Household Use of Banking and Financial Services found that in 2019 approximately 7.1 million U.S. households were unbanked, meaning no one in the home had a bank account. The number of unbanked and underbanked people (U.S. residents with limited access to banking services) is on the decline, and the increased use of digital wallets and payment apps is part of the trend.  

Digital wallets and mobile payment apps are a great answer and a more secure way of making financial transactions for those who cannot or do not want to access a bank’s services. It is safer, there are fewer fees and easier access. Unbanked and underbanked households can make payments, store funds, transfer money to other financial accounts, and even have bill pay (check writing) features depending on the app.  

Digital wallets and mobile payment apps can also improve financial inclusion by reducing people’s dependency on cash and decreasing risks associated with handling money, such as health concerns, fraud, theft, and loss. 

What People Should do to Stay Safe 

  • Enable all the security features like screen lock/biometric lock and Find my iPhone to keep hackers from accessing the digital wallet, payment apps as well as stealing login credentials or money. 
  • Use a strong password and good cyber hygiene/security practices on all accounts to reduce the risk of hacking. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) encourages consumers to use a passphrase that is at least 12 characters long.  
  • Beware of phishing attacks because they could lead to a hacked account. Consumers should avoid unsolicited emails or text messages that ask the user to send money directly through a digital wallet or payment app. Criminals may send people an unsolicited payment request through a mobile app, so users should only use a digital wallet or mobile payment app if they initiate the transaction.  
  • Look for red flags like payments you did not make using your payment apps. If someone is victimized, they should report it to the app, change their account password and consider scanning their device with antivirus software. 

Contact the ITRC 

If anyone has questions about digital wallets, how to use them or how safe they are, they can contact the ITRC. Consumers can reach a live advisor for free by phone (888.400.5530) or live-chat and can get access to the ITRC’s latest information. All people have to do is visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started. 

  • The Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) 2020 Data Breach Report shows 62 percent of cyberattacks that led to data breaches in 2020 involved phishing and ransomware.  
  • Google and Stanford University study reveals that people with more than one device are more likely to be struck by a phishing attempt. It also says that Australia is the most targeted country for phishing attacks
  • Proofpoint Security study says people who had personal data exposed in a third-party breach were five times more likely to be targeted by phishing or malware. 
  • All three reports make the same point about the rise in phishing attacks – a data breach does not mean someone’s identity has been misused. It means people impacted are at increased risk of becoming an identity crime victim. 
  • For information about recent data breaches, consumers and businesses should visit the ITRC’s new data breach tracking tool, notified
  • For more information, or if someone believes they are the victim of identity theft, consumers can contact the ITRC toll-free at 888.400.5530 or via live-chat on the company website www.idtheftcenter.org.  

Welcome to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) Weekly Breach Breakdown for February 12, 2021. Each week, we look at the most recent and interesting events and trends related to data security and privacy. This week we talk about what seems to be the average cybercriminals’ favorite pastime – phishing and the rise in phishing attacks. Phishing with a ph. In Troilus & Cressida, Shakespeare’s incredibly complex play about the Trojan War, the main character compares the great lengths some people go to deceive the search for the other kind of fishing that gives rise to our episode title: 

Whiles others fish with craft for great opinion, 

I with great truth catch mere simplicity 

ITRC 2020 Data Breach Report & the Rise in Phishing Attacks 

Two weeks ago, the ITRC released our annual data breach analysis, which pointed out that 62 percent of cyberattacks that led to data breaches in 2020 involved phishing and ransomware. Phishing was in the number one position because it is a simple attack to execute. 

Google and Stanford University Study Reveals New Phishing Attack Findings 

This week, Google and Stanford University released a new study that looked at the 1.2 billion phishing emails aimed at Gmail users during a five-month period in 2020. Among the findings: 

  • People are more at risk of a phishing attempt if they have more than one device. If someone only has a desktop or laptop, or only has a smartphone, they are less likely to be a target. The conclusion is if someone has multiple devices, they have more of an online presence. It is the same if someone sends a lot of emails – they are five times more likely to be phished if they do. 
  • Older users are targeted more frequently than younger people. Someone between the ages of 55-64-years-old is 1.6 times more likely to be the target of a phishing scheme than someone who is 18-24-years-old. One potential reason is that the older someone gets, the bigger their footprint, which makes them easier to find. 

People in Australia are More Likely to be Targeted by a Phishing Attack 

Who in the world do you think is the most targeted country? This will surprise you. While U.S. residents send more emails by volume than any other country, people in Australia are more likely to be targeted for a phishing attack than anyone else. In fact, the odds are nearly double that they will be phish bait down under.  

The U.S is number 16 when it comes to the likelihood of being targeted on a country adjusted basis. This is the point where we need to ask once again – why is there a rise in phishing attacks? 

Third-Party Breaches and Their Impact on the Rise in Phishing Attacks 

Proofpoint Security reported this week a 14 percent increase in malicious phishing emails in 2020 over the previous year. Here is the truly staggering statistic: People who had personal data exposed in a third-party breach were five times more likely to be targeted by phishing or malware, according to the report, which highlights just how damaging these types of data breaches can be, even in the long run. 

What the Reports Mean for Consumers  

The report comes on the heels of the announcement of the release in an identity marketplace of the largest set of logins and passwords ever compiled. Around 3.2 billion credentials were stolen in previous data breaches and bundled in a single file. All of these reports – from the ITRC, Google and Stanford University, and Proofpoint make the same point – a data breach does not mean someone’s identity has been misused. It means people those impacted are at increased risk of becoming an identity crime victim. 

To quote Proofpoint: 

“Our results suggest that data breaches expose users to lasting harms due to the lack of viable remediation options.” 

Contact the ITRC 

If anyone has questions about protecting their information from data breaches and data exposures before they happen, visit www.idtheftcenter.org, where there are helpful tips on phishing attacks and many other topics – including the 2020 Data Breach Report

If someone believes they have already been the victim of an identity crime or a data breach and needs help figuring out what to do next, contact us to speak with an expert advisor on the phone (888.400.5530), chat live on the web or exchange emails during our normal business hours (6 a.m.-5 p.m. PST). Just visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.  

Be sure to check out the most recent episode of our sister podcast – The Fraudian Slip – with a special guest from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). We will be back next week for another Weekly Breach Breakdown. 

  • The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) unveiled its 15th annual data breach report, which revealed a 19 percent decrease in breaches and a 66 percent decrease in individuals impacted. 
  • The ITRC 2020 Data Breach Report identifies a trend that cybercriminals are less interested in stealing large amounts of consumers’ personal information. 
  • Threat actors are now more interested in taking advantage of bad consumer behaviors to attack businesses using stolen credentials like logins and passwords.  
  • The report also states an increase in ransomware attacks, supply chain attacks and unsecured databases. 
  • For more information on the latest data breach information, visit the ITRC’s interactive data breach tracking tool, notified. It is updated daily and free to consumers.   
  • Consumers and victims can receive free support and guidance from a knowledgeable live-advisor by calling 888.400.5530 or visiting idtheftcenter.org to live-chat. 

Each January, the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) releases its annual data breach report, breaking down the numbers, trends, attack methods and much more. For the last 15 years, the ITRC has tracked publicly-reported data breaches in an effort to make businesses and consumers aware of the latest information. While parts of the ITRC’s 2020 Data Breach Report reveal encouraging statistics, some worrisome trends also exist. 

The Number of Data Breaches and People Impacted Decrease 

After a 17 percent increase in data breaches in 2019 (1,473), the number decreased by 19 percent in 2020 (1,108). Even better, the number of individuals impacted dropped by 66 percent. In years past, the ITRC saw data breaches on the rise. However, there is a reason for the decline in breaches and consumers impacted.  

A Shift in the Cybercriminals Tactics 

The ITRC 2020 Data Breach Report shows the continuation of one trend from 2019. Cybercriminals are less interested in stealing large amounts of consumers’ personal information. Instead, threat actors are more interested in taking advantage of bad consumer behaviors to attack businesses using stolen credentials like logins and passwords. It is why ransomware and phishing attacks directed at organizations are now the preferred data theft method by cyberthieves.   

The shift comes as no surprise to the ITRC. One ransomware attack can generate as much revenue in minutes as hundreds of individual identity theft attempts over months or years. Coveware reports that the average ransomware payout has grown from less than $10,000 per event in Q3 2018 to more than $233,000 per occurrence in Q4 2020.    

Other Notable Findings 

There were other notable findings in the report: 

  • Supply chain attacks are becoming increasingly popular with attackers since they can access the information of larger organizations or multiple organizations through a single, third-party vendor. Often, the attacked organization is smaller, with fewer security measures than the companies they serve.   
  • Unemployment benefits fraud hit consumers hard in 2020 and could continue well into 2021. Organized cybercriminals used stolen credentials and other identifying information to apply for unemployment benefits through state websites. In fact, Washington and Maryland each reported more than $500 million in fraudulent benefit claims and California more than $11 billion in 2020. The U.S. Department of Labor estimated the total identity-related fraud at more than $26 billion in all 50 states and the District of Columbia during that same timeframe. The unemployment benefits fraud attacks are another example of it being easier and more profitable to commit a cybercrime using stolen, legitimate credentials than hacking into a company’s computer network.  
  • Case studies on Blackbaud and Vertafore break down what happened in each data compromise and how it happened. For more information on these case studies, download the ITRC 2020 Data Breach Report 

Staying One Step Ahead of the Cybercriminals 

While it is encouraging to see the number of data breaches and the number of people impacted by them decline, businesses and consumers should understand that this problem is not going awayCybercriminals are just shifting their tactics to find a new way to attack businesses and consumers. People need to adapt their practices to stay one step ahead of the threat actors.  

What You Can Do 

Ransomware attacks, stolen credentials and unsecured databases affect consumers and businesses in many different ways. Here are what businesses and consumers can do to protect themselves from each threat: 

  • Ransomware attacks  While ransomware attacks do not typically affect consumers, businesses should 1) frequently back up their systems, 2) patch any software flaws as soon as they are noticed, and 3) refuse to pay any ransomware demands.  
  • Stolen credentials – To protect themselves, consumers should 1) not reuse any passwords, 2) switch to a 12-character unique passphrase, 3) use a password manager if needed, 4) use multi-factor authentication when possible, and 5) consider creating online accounts so cybercriminals cannot open one in your name. 
  • Unsecured databases  It is a misconception that cloud service providers are responsible for cybersecurity. To prevent leaving a database unsecured, businesses should 1) properly configure cybersecurity tools for cloud environments and 2) apply the same level of effort to protecting cloud environments as an on-premise system and data assets. 

To download the ITRC 2020 Data Breach Reportclick here. 

To learn more about the latest data breaches, visit the ITRC’s interactive data breach tracking tool, notified. It is updated daily and free to consumers.   

For anyone that has been a victim of a data breach, the ITRC recommends downloading its free ID Theft Help app to manage the various aspects of an individual’s data breach case.  

Consumers and victims can receive free support and guidance from a knowledgeable live-advisor by calling 888.400.5530 or visiting idtheftcenter.org to live-chat.  

  • According to a survey by Proofpoint, ransomware attacks are now viewed as the top cybersecurity threat by nearly half, 46 percent, of Chief Information Security Officers. 
  • Cybersecurity firm Emsisoft found that at least 2,354 U.S. government agencies, healthcare facilities and schools were the victims of ransomware attacks in 2020. 
  • The Emsisoft report also reports that more than 1,300 companies lost data, including intellectual property and other sensitive information in 2020. 
  • Ransomware attacks cause significant disruption when ambulances carrying emergency patients are redirected, cancer treatments are delayed, lab test results are inaccessible and 9-1-1 services are interrupted. 
  • For information about recent data breaches, consumers and businesses should visit the Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) new data breach tracking tool, notified
  • Keep an eye out for the ITRC’s 15th Annual Data Breach Report. The 2020 Data Breach Report will be released on January 28, 2021.  
  • For more information, or if someone believes they are the victim of identity theft, consumers can contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 or via live-chat on the company website. 

Welcome to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) Weekly Breach Breakdown for January 22, 2021. Each week, we look at the most recent and interesting events and trends related to data security and privacy.  Human beings tend to end a year by looking forward, but begin the new year by looking back. This week, such is the case when researchers, having just finished publishing their 2021 predictions, turn to sharing their annual trend reports. How many of X and the increase or decrease in Y. 

Here, we are interested in the trends that impact consumers and businesses regarding data privacy and security. The first significant report on those topics concludes that ransomware attacks are now the single biggest cyber threat to companies based on what happened in 2020. If it’s a threat to businesses, it’s a threat to consumers. 

You may not know the name Phil Dusenberry, but you know his work. If you saw a Pepsi commercial during the ’80s, ‘90s and early 2000s, you saw his handy work. If you ever saw the “Morning in America” film for President Reagan or the baseball movie, “The Natural”, those belonged to Phil Dusenberry, too. Now, he has contributed to today’s episode when he said: “Writing advertisements is the second most profitable form of writing. The first, of course, is…” Hold that thought, and we’ll come back to it.  

Ransomware Attacks Considered A Top Cybersecurity Threat 

Cybersecurity firm Proofpoint has found that ransomware attacks are now viewed as the top cybersecurity threat by nearly half, 46 percent, of Chief Information Security Officers in a recent survey. Even more alarming is research from New Zealand-based cybersecurity firm Emsisoft that concludes at least 2,354 U.S. government agencies, healthcare facilities and schools were the victims of ransomware attacks in 2020. The impacted organizations include: 

  • 113 federal, state and municipal governments and agencies 
  • 560 healthcare facilities 
  • 1,681 schools, colleges and universities 

These kinds of attacks cause significant, and sometimes life-threatening, disruption when ambulances carrying emergency patients have to be redirected, cancer treatments are delayed, lab test results are inaccessible and 9-1-1 services are interrupted. 

The Impact of Ransomware Attacks on Private Businesses 

Ransomware attacks are not limited to the public sector. Private businesses are very much in the crosshairs of the professional cybercriminals who commit these crimes. According to the Emsisoft report, more than 1,300 companies, many based in the U.S., lost data, including intellectual property and other sensitive information in 2020. That’s just the number of companies with data published on websites where thieves post their ransom notes or stolen data for sale. It does not include the unknown number of companies that paid the ransom before anyone noticed.  

Few cyber-criminal groups released the data they stole in 2020. Only two are known to have done so after companies refused to pay a ransom. However, by the end of 2020, more companies were paying ransom figures over $200,000 on average to avoid the release of their compromised information.  

Many times, they paid the demands even if they didn’t have to do so. Emsisoft has documented cases where businesses with the necessary back-ups to restore their information still paid the ransom for fear their data would be released if they didn’t pay. Proving Phil Dusenberry’s theory, the most profitable form of writing…is a ransom note. 

ITRC to Release Annual Data Breach Report 

Next week, the ITRC will publish its annual report on data breaches. The report includes how many breaches occurred, who was impacted, why they occur and much more. There are some very interesting trends that we’ll discuss in our next episode.  

Contact the ITRC 

If you have questions about how to protect your information from data breaches and data exposures, visit idtheftcenter.org, where you will find helpful tips on this and many other topics.  

If you think you have already been the victim of an identity crime or a data breach and you need help figuring out what to do next, contact us. You can speak with an expert advisor on the phone (888.400.5530), chat live on the web or exchange emails during regular business hours (6 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST). Visit the company website to get started. 

If you want to work ahead and read our 2020 Data Breach Report, our 15th annual edition, it will be posted on our website on Thursday, January 28, as part of Data Privacy Day. Just visit idtheftcenter.org

The release of the 2020 ITRC Data Breach Report and launch of the ITRC’s data breach tracking tool supports the Data Privacy Day 2021 initiative to help build trust among consumers and promote transparency around data collection practices.

SAN DIEGO, January 13, 2021- Today, the Identity Theft Resource Center® (ITRC), a nationally recognized non-profit organization established to support victims of identity crime, announces its commitment to Data Privacy Day on January 28, 2021. The ITRC recognizes and supports the principle that all organizations share the responsibility of being conscientious stewards of personal information.

The ITRC will unveil the 15th annual edition of the ITRC Data Breach Report on January 28, 2021. One of the most widely quoted reports on data breach trends, the report will also explore the fundamental shifts underway in the root causes of identity-related crimes. The release of the 2020 ITRC Data Breach Report coincides with the launch of the ITRC’s new data breach tracking tool, notifiedTM, to assist consumers and businesses in making informed decisions about with whom they do business. Landmark state privacy and security laws, like the California Privacy Rights Act, require businesses to ensure third-party vendors’ cybersecurity processes protect consumer information.

“The ITRC is honored to take part in Data Privacy Day 2021 and to bring awareness to the importance of people and businesses taking action to protect personal and company information,” said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “We want individuals to value protecting their own data and for businesses to keep people’s personal information safe. Likewise, our latest trend analysis shows that consumers have a big role to play in protecting their employer’s valuable business data and systems. It is critical that everyone take part in reducing the number of data compromises moving forward.”

Data Privacy Day is a global effort that generates awareness about the importance of privacy, highlights easy ways to protect personal information, and reminds organizations that privacy is good for business. This year, the focus is on encouraging individuals to “Own Your Privacy” by learning more about how to protect the valuable data that is online, and encouraging businesses to “Respect Privacy” by helping organizations keep individuals’ personal information safe while ensuring fair, relevant and legitimate data collection and processing practices.

According to a Pew Research Center study, 79 percent of U.S. adults report being concerned about how companies use their data. As technology evolves and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to influence how consumers interact with businesses online, data collection practices are becoming increasingly unavoidable, making it imperative that companies act responsibly.

“In recent years, we’ve seen the impact of more global awareness surrounding the abuse of consumer data, thanks to sweeping privacy measures like GDPR and CPRA,” said Kelvin Coleman, Executive Director for the National Cyber Security Alliance. “While legislative backing is key to reinforcing accountability for poor data privacy practices, one major goal of Data Privacy Day is to build awareness among businesses about the benefits of an ethical approach to data privacy measures separate from legal boundaries.”

For more information about Data Privacy Day 2021 and how to get involved, visit https://staysafeonline.org/data-privacy-day/.

For more information on the ITRC’s 2020 Data Breach Report, email media@idtheftcenter.org.

About the Identity Theft Resource Center®  

Founded in 1999, the Identity Theft Resource Center® (ITRC) is a non-profit organization established to empower and guide consumers, victims, business and government to minimize risk and mitigate the impact of identity compromise and crime. Through public and private support, the ITRC provides no-cost victim assistance and consumer education through its website live-chat idtheftcenter.org, toll-free phone number 888.400.5530, and ID Theft Help app. The ITRC also equips consumers and businesses with information about recent data breaches through its data breach tracking tool, notifiedTM.  

About Data Privacy Day

Data Privacy Day began in the United States and Canada in January 2008 as an extension of the Data Protection Day celebration in Europe. Data Protection Day commemorates the Jan. 28, 1981, signing of Convention 108, the first legally binding international treaty dealing with privacy and data protection. NCSA, the nation’s leading nonprofit, public-private partnership promoting cybersecurity and privacy education and awareness, leads the effort in North America each year. For more information, visit https://staysafeonline.org/data-privacy-day/.

About the National Cyber Security Alliance

NCSA is the Nation’s leading nonprofit, public-private partnership promoting cybersecurity and privacy education and awareness. NCSA works with a broad array of stakeholders in government, industry and civil society. NCSA’s primary partners are the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and NCSA’s Board of Directors, which includes representatives from ADP; AIG; American Express; Bank of America; Cofense; Comcast Corporation; Eli Lilly and Company; ESET North America; Facebook; Intel Corporation; Lenovo; LogMeIn; Marriott International; Mastercard; MediaPro; Microsoft Corporation; Mimecast; KnowBe4; NortonLifeLock; Proofpoint; Raytheon; Trend Micro, Inc.; Uber: U.S. Bank; Visa and Wells Fargo. NCSA’s core efforts include Cybersecurity Awareness Month (October); Data Privacy Day (Jan. 28); STOP. THINK. CONNECT.™, the global online safety awareness and education campaign co-founded by NCSA and the Anti-Phishing Working Group with federal government leadership from the Department of Homeland Security; and CyberSecure My Business™, which offers webinars, web resources and workshops to help businesses be resistant to and resilient from cyberattacks. For more information on NCSA, please visit https://staysafeonline.org.

Media Contact  

Identity Theft Resource Center  
Alex Achten   
Earned & Owned Media Specialist  
888.400.5530 Ext. 3611  
media@idtheftcenter.org  

  • A T-Mobile repeat data breach event resulted from unauthorized access to 200,000 customer accounts, including call records.
  • It is the fourth time T-Mobile has sent a data breach notification since 2018. The T-Mobile data breach in December was the second one in 2020.
  • An investigation into the SolarWinds data hack has not revealed any evidence suggesting the attackers sought or stole mass amounts of personal information. The target appears to be either intellectual property or the personal information of particular individuals for espionage purposes.
  • For information about recent data breaches, consumers and businesses should visit the Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) new data breach tracking tool, notifiedTM.
  • Keep an eye out for the ITRC’s 15th Annual Data Breach Report. The 2020 Data Breach Report will be released on January 27, 2021. 
  • For more information, or if someone believes they are the victim of identity theft, consumers can contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 or via live-chat on the company website. 
https://soundcloud.com/idtheftcenter/the-weekly-breach-breakdown-podcast-by-itrc-second-verse-same-as-the-first-season-2-episode-1

Welcome to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) Weekly Breach Breakdown for January 8, 2021. Each week, we look at the most recent and interesting events and trends related to data security and privacy. We started this podcast and a sister monthly program in 2020 in response to the shifts in privacy, security and identity issues: the changes in how criminals collect and use consumer and, increasingly, business information.

One of the trends that the ITRC has identified, and will explore in a report this spring, is the rise in the number of repeat data breaches, even as the overall number of data events is declining. That leads us to the title of this week’s episode – “Second Verse, Same as the First.”

While most of us were prepping for a socially distanced Christmas celebration, one of the largest mobile telephone companies posted a data breach notice on its website. It was not the first time T-Mobile issued a breach notice; it was the fourth time since 2018.

T-Mobile Repeat Data Breach Event

T-Mobile announced that an unauthorized party accessed a small percent of customer accounts, about 200,000 accounts, in early December 2020. The compromised data may have included call records — such as when a call was made, how long the call lasted, the phone numbers called and other information that might be found on a customer’s bill.

T-Mobile says the hackers did not access names, home or email addresses, financial data and account passwords or PINs. An investigation is on-going.

The December data event is the second time an attacker accessed customer information in the same year. Just months into 2020, a breach of the T-Mobile employee email system allowed criminals to see customer data and potentially misuse it. Information about more than one million prepaid customers was exposed in 2019, and cybercriminals compromised nearly two million accounts in 2018.

A Shift in Data Thieves Tactics

Research conducted by the ITRC shows the number of consumers who report being the victim of more than one identity crime has increased 33 percent in the past 18 months. It comes at a time when data thieves are shifting their tactics and targets. Our research shows they are focusing more on business data and less on mass amounts of consumer personal data.

While data breaches are dropping, cyberattacks are rising. The two are not the same. That’s an important distinction as a large and consequential cybersecurity breach occurred in late December 2020 and is likely still underway.

SolarWinds Data Hack Update

We talked about the attack in our last podcast before the holiday break, but the scope of this attack warrants an update.

Here’s what happened: A group of professional cybercriminals affiliated with the Russian government’s intelligence service was able to insert software into a common technology service used by governments and private companies, known as SolarWinds. An estimated 18,000 organizations have been exposed to the malware, including some of the largest agencies in the U.S. government – the Departments of Commerce, Treasury, Justice, State and most of the Fortune 500.

The good news for consumers is at this point, after nearly a month of investigation, there is no indication the attackers sought or stole mass amounts of personal information. As is common with this particular group of threat actors, the target appears to be intellectual property or the personal information of specific individuals for espionage purposes – not profit.

We will release a detailed report on the impact of identity-related crimes in May. We will issue our report on 2020 data breaches and trends on January 27, just a few weeks from now.

Contact the ITRC

If you have questions about how to protect your information from data breaches and data exposures, visit www.idtheftcenter.org, where you will find helpful tips on this and many other topics.

If you think you have already been the victim of an identity crime or a data breach and you need help figuring out what to do next, contact us. You can speak with an expert advisor on the phone (888.400.5530), chat live on the web or exchange emails during regular business hours. Just visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.

Next week listen to our sister podcast, The Fraudian Slip, which focuses on identity-related fraud when we talk with the Deputy Chief of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Division about identity crimes and how they might impact your taxes.

  • Last week, FireEye, a cybersecurity provider, revealed their tools to detect and block sophisticated cyberattacks were stolen in a security breach. 
  • This week we learned attackers, believed to be affiliated with Russia’s state security service, infiltrated government agencies and potentially thousands of companies through a software update from IT management company SolarWinds that was issued months ago. 
  • So far, there is no indication that the Nation/State attackers were after consumer information. These groups tend to be more interested in information they can use for intelligence or espionage. 
  • For information about recent data breaches, consumers and businesses should visit the Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) new data breach tracking tool, notifiedTM
  • Keep an eye out for the ITRC’s 15th Annual Data Breach Report. The 2020 Data Breach Report will be released on January 27, 2021.  
  • For more information, or if someone believes they are the victim of identity theft, consumers can contact the Identity Theft Resource Center toll-free at 888.400.5530 or via live-chat on the company website.  

Subscribe to the Weekly Breach Breakdown Podcast  

Every week the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) looks at some of the top data compromises from the previous week and other relevant privacy and cybersecurity news in our Weekly Breach Breakdown Podcast on SoundCloud. This week, on the last breach breakdown podcast of 2020, we look at the FireEye and SolarWinds hacks, which have shaken the cybersecurity community. 

Also available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Data Breaches Down/Security Breaches Up 

2020 has been a difficult year for many. However, there have been some encouraging trends that the ITRC has talked about in previous breach breakdown podcast episodes. One of the most promising trends includes cybercriminal’s lack of interest in consumer information, resulting in a significant drop in data breaches and the number of people impacted by them.  

Unfortunately, you can’t say the same of a companion crime, security breaches. One cannot have a mass data breach without also experiencing a cybersecurity failure. With that said, it is possible to have a security breach without impacting consumer data. That is what dominates the news as we wrap up 2020 – a massive security breach involving two leading technology companies: FireEye and SolarWinds. 

What You Need to Know About FireEye 

FireEye, a cybersecurity provider, supports large organizations worldwide with tools that detect and defend against cyberattacks. When there are attacks on companies and governments, FireEye often gets the call to figure out what happened and how it happened. 

What You Need to Know About SolarWinds 

SolarWinds, a software company, claims to help more than 33,000 companies, including virtually all Fortune 500 companies and every major agency in the U.S. government. SolarWinds’ software helps organizations with large, complex computer systems manage their networks and devices.  

FireEye and SolarWinds Hacked 

Last week, FireEye revealed their tools to detect and block sophisticated cyberattacks, the kind launched by governments, had been stolen due to a security breach. A few days later, the U.S. Treasury and Commerce Departments announced they were hacked. It was followed by announcements of hacks at the National Institutes of Health as well as the Departments of Homeland Security and State. 

This week, we learned that the security breaches were the result of threat actors believed to be affiliated with Russia’s state security service. The attackers infiltrated these government agencies and FireEye through a software update from SolarWinds that was issued months ago. SolarWinds believes as many as 18,000 customers may be affected by the malware inserted by the attackers into the SolarWinds update.  

What the FireEye and SolarWinds Hacks Mean for Consumers 

It is too early to tell what the FireEye and SolarWinds Hacks mean for consumers. So far, there is no indication that the Nation/State attackers were after consumer information. These groups tend to be interested in information that can be used for intelligence or espionage, not making money by stealing and selling consumer data.  

There is another reason to believe consumer information may be safe from the FireEye and SolarWinds hacks. SolarWinds software does not access or manage consumer data. As ITRC Chief Operating Officer James Lee says in the podcast, think of SolarWinds as a traffic cop. They can tell people what businesses are on the street and how to get there, but they cannot take people there and open the door for them. 

With enough time and motivation, the attackers could have wandered around a SolarWinds customer’s networks to access some consumer information. However, experts don’t believe that happened on a mass scale. The ITRC will post more details if we find consumer information is involved.  

How We Know About the Attacks 

We know about this and other breaches because of laws and regulations that require organizations, even government agencies, to issue breach notices. Many of those rules do not set a specific timeline for when a notice must be given. That is about to change for banks governed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).  

For the past 15 years, the FDIC rules only required that regulators be notified of a data or security breach within a reasonable period of time. This week, the FDIC approved a new regulation that sets the notification period at 36 hours whenever a security issue or system’s failure significantly impacts operations. That is stricter than the 72 hours required by the State of New York, the toughest notification law in the U.S. The FDIC rule only requires regulators to receive a notice. State laws still govern public notices.  

notifiedTM    

For information about recent data breaches, consumers and businesses should visit the ITRC’s new data breach tracking tool, notifiedTM. It is updated daily and free to consumers. Organizations that need comprehensive breach information for business planning or due diligence can access as many as 90 data points through one of the three paid notified subscriptions. Subscriptions help ensure the ITRC’s identity crime services stay free.   

Contact the ITRC   

If you believe you are the victim of an identity crime or data breach and need help figuring out what to do next, contact us. You can speak with an expert advisor at no-cost by calling 888.400.5530 or chat live on the web. Just visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started.  

Twenty-three episodes from 2020 are in the books. We will be back in January to share more insights into data breaches and identity trends. Join us in 2021 on our weekly data breach podcast to get the latest perspectives on the last week in breaches. Subscribe to get it delivered on your preferred podcast platform.   

  • The list for the most common passwords in 2020 is out, released by cybersecurity firm NordPass. The three most common passwords of 2020 are 12345, 123456789 and picture1.  
  • Weak passwords continue to be a security issue. According to Verizon, compromised passwords are responsible for 81 percent of hacking-related data breaches
  • To strengthen password security, consumers should change their password to a passphrase, never reuse a password (consider a password manager), use two-factor authentication when possible and never use work passwords at home (and vice versa). 
  • For information about recent data breaches, consumers and businesses should visit the Identity Theft Resource Center’s (ITRC) new data breach tracking tool, notifiedTM
  • For more information on how to upgrade your password, contact the ITRC toll-free at 888.400.5530 or by live-chat on the company website.  

Subscribe to the Weekly Breach Breakdown Podcast  

Every week the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) looks at some of the top data compromises from the previous week and other relevant privacy and cybersecurity news in our  Weekly Breach Breakdown Podcast. This week, we will look at one of the behaviors that are increasingly at the foundation of many, if not most, data compromises in 2020: weak passwords

Why Passwords are Important 

As ITRC Chief Operating Officer James Lee mentions in the podcast, like the Porter outside Macbeth’s castle, passwords are designed to allow entry to our personal and work castles. Passwords protect the devices that are home to the applications and data we use and create.  

Passwords in the 1980s and 1990s 

People have been protecting passwords since the 1980s. The first passwords were simple, and most people only needed one. Maybe the password was assigned to someone at work, so they used the same one at home; that is if there was a computer at home. People were told never to write down their password.  

Then came the internet in the mid-1990s, and suddenly there was a need for more passwords. People needed a password for their AOL or Earthlink account. Eventually, people had to add passwords to the handful of other online accounts they created. However, most people probably just used the same word or set of numbers that was their device login password. 

Passwords Today 

Fast forward to today, according to cybersecurity firm NordPass, the average person now has to manage a staggering 100 passwords, up 25 percent from 2019. The rise is due, in part, to the increase in online transactions during 2020 related to COVID-19.  

Most Common Passwords 

NordPass also publishes an annual list of the most common passwords, which also corresponds with the passwords cracked most often by professional data thieves. Here are the top 10 most common passwords of 2020 and how long it takes a cybercriminal to crack the password: 

  1. 12345 (takes less than one second to break) 
  1. 123456789 (takes less than one second to break) 
  1. picture1 (takes up to three hours to crack) 
  1. password ( takes less than one second to break) 
  1. 12345678 (takes less than one second to break) 
  1. 111111 (takes less than one second to break) 
  1. 123123 (takes less than one second to break) 
  1. 12345 (takes less than one second to break) 
  1. 1234567890 (takes less than a second to break) 
  1. Senha (the Portuguese word for password; takes 10 seconds to break) 

The Dangers of Weak Passwords 

Weak passwords allow cybercriminals to access systems and accounts easily. People use weak passwords because there are so many to remember, which also prompts people to use the same weak passwords on multiple accounts and use them at work and home. 

Here are a few statistics from earlier in 2020: 

What You Can Do to Avoid Weak Passwords 

The good news is that people can do many things to make sure they have strong passwords that will keep their accounts secure. Here are some tips: 

  • Change your password to a passphrase. Use a passphrase like a movie quote, a song lyric, or a favorite book title that is easy to remember and at least 12 characters long. It would take a cybercriminal 300 years to crack a 12-character passphrase with upper and lower case letters. If you add a number, the passphrase will last 2,000 years.  
  • Never reuse your passwords, or passphrases since you just upgraded, right? If you have too many passwords to remember, use a password manager. If you want a free solution, many browsers offer a form of a built-in password manager. Safari and Firefox are two examples. 
  • Use two-factor authentication when it’s available. An authentication app like those offered by Microsoft and Google is best. However, even the two-factor authentication version that sends a code to you by text is better than no multi-factor authentication. 
  • Never use your work password at home, or vice versa. Stolen work credentials are one way cybercriminals use to get the access they need to launch ransomware attacks against companies.  

notifiedTM   

For information about recent data breaches, consumers and businesses should visit the ITRC’s new data breach tracking tool, notifiedTM. It is updated daily and free to consumers. Organizations that need comprehensive breach information for business planning or due diligence can access as many as 90 data points through one of the three paid notified subscriptions. Subscriptions help ensure the ITRC’s identity crime services stay free.  

Contact the ITRC  

If you have questions about how to upgrade your password to protect your information from data breaches and exposures, visit www.idtheftcenter.org, where you will find helpful tips on this and many other topics. If you think you have already been the victim of an identity crime or a data breach and you need help figuring out what to do next, contact us. You can speak with an expert advisor at no-cost by calling 888.400.5530 or chat live on the web. Just visit www.idtheftcenter.org to get started. 

Join us on our weekly data breach podcast to get the latest perspectives on the last week in breaches. Subscribe to get it delivered on your preferred podcast platform.  

By Identity Theft Resource Center CEO, Eva Velasquez & Synchrony CISO, Gleb Reznik

The 2020 holiday season will certainly be one of the most unusual ones we have seen, thanks to the biggest holiday shopping trend – a dramatic shift in online transactions prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Online shopping involves non-cash transactions using digital payment methods. While the most obvious are debit and credit cards, there are also peer-to-peer payment apps, digital wallets and online versions of contactless payments like Apple Pay and Google Pay.

There is a truism in cybercrime as there is in bank robbery: thieves go where the money is. There are many opportunities for bad actors to take advantage of consumers and businesses during the shopping season. We expect the identity thieves will look to take advantage of the rise in online shopping.

Tune in to our latest podcast

Historic and Current Holiday Shopping Trends

Holiday shopping has always been a busy time for consumers. Last year, there was an estimated $1.1 trillion spent on the shopping frenzy.

According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), approximately 65 percent of consumers shopped online during the holidays in 2019.

Online retailers have seen sales grow steadily over the years. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, sales have risen between one to two percent each year.

Online Holiday Shopping Trends So Far in the 2020 Holiday Season

With all of that said, 2020 looks to be a watershed year. In just the first ten days of the holiday shopping season, U.S. consumers spent $21.7 billion online, a 21 percent year-over-year increase, according to Adobe Analytics.

There is no surprise in this online holiday shopping trend. The same Adobe Analytics report shows 63 percent of consumers are avoiding stores and buying more online, with health concerns due to the pandemic driving the decision for 81 percent of shoppers.

Advice for Consumers

  • Have strong password management – If someone has strong password management, an identity thief will not be able to access multiple accounts if they gain access to one account with stolen credentials from a scam or shoulder surfing. It is especially important to ignore “customer service representatives” who call about online orders or accounts. At the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), we recommend using at least a twelve-digit passphrase because they are easier to remember and harder for an identity thief to crack.
  • Beware of phishing emails with emotional triggers – People should keep an eye out for shopping discounts sent to their phones claiming huge store discounts if they download an app and enter their credit card information. Another popular phishing email is package tracking scams that offer to track someone’s packages after making their purchase with a link to open or download. No one should ever click on a link, attachment or file from an unknown email because that is how scammers strike with malware, ransomware and steal people’s personal information.
  • Use credit cards and not debit cards – Credit cards provide more protection than debit cards. One of the biggest reasons is because debit cards are linked with bank accounts. If an identity thief compromises a debit card, the victim’s bank account can be immediately drained of all available funds. It may take time to restore the stolen funds, leaving the cardholder without access to the money.
  • Shop on secure websites – People need to do their homework before providing any of their payment information or other data. Consumers can check a business’s reputation at third party review organizations like the BBB and Yelp. Using search terms like “Scam” or “Complaints” along with the website or company name can give someone insight into the experience of other customers. 
  • Do not use public Wi-Fi – No one should ever use public Wi-Fi to check their bank account information or to make purchases. Some public Wi-Fi connections are not secure, and a hacker could have the ability to position themselves between the user and the connection point to steal their data. If someone wants to use public Wi-Fi to kill time while in the store or to check on products they want to buy, they need to avoid entering any personal information.

Advice for Businesses

  • Secure your information – Businesses need to take all of the necessary steps to ensure customers’ personal information is secure. It starts by making sure all systems are protected with properly configured cybersecurity tools. Time and time again, we see businesses and technology providers fail to configure passwords, resulting in exposed sensitive data for anyone to see online.
  • Have security software – Businesses need to protect their networks from cyberattacks. If a system does not have appropriate security software like network and application firewalls, malware protection and a program to patch known security flaws, identity thieves will steal whatever customer and company information they want.
  • Talk to the employees about online security – A business can have all the security measures in place, but it does not matter if employees click on links in phishing schemes. Company executives and cybersecurity teams should talk to employees about security, so they do not end up being their weakest link.

What the Post-Pandemic Marketplace Will Look Like

While many things are uncertain about our post-pandemic world, one safe bet is that online holiday shopping will continue to rise. Statistics show online shopping was already on the rise before COVID-19. With the even bigger surge during the pandemic, it will force businesses to get serious, if they are not already, about e-commerce and a digital-first model. In a sense, every day could be Black Friday!

For more information on online shopping during the holiday season or online holiday shopping trends, contact the ITRC at no-cost by calling 888.400.5530 or by live-chat on the company website.

Also, download the free ID Theft Help app, which has access to resources, a case log for an identity theft resolution process and much more.

Synchrony is a proud financial sponsor of the Identity Theft Resource Center.