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In 2019, the Identity theft Resource Center (ITRC) saw a 17 percent increase in data breaches compared to 2018. Credential stuffing attacks exploded in 2019, as well as third-party contractors being breached. 2020 has been a different story.

While scams are up due to COVID-19, publicly-reported data breaches are down in the U.S. Despite millions of Americans shifting to working from home – where cybersecurity and data protections may not be as strong as their regular workspace, the number of data breaches has dropped by one-third (nearly 33 percent) in the first six months of 2020 compared to 2019. The data compromise decrease statistics do not stop there. More significantly, the number of individuals impacted by breaches dropped by 66 percent over the same time period one year ago.

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Year -over-year January – June 2020 data breach trends provided by ITRC

The 2020 data breach statistics are good news for consumers and businesses overall. However, the emotional and financial impacts on individuals and organizations are still significant. In fact, the impact on individuals might be even more catastrophic as criminals use stolen personally identifiable information (PII) to misappropriate government benefits intended to ease the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

External threat actors continue to account for most successful data compromises (404), compared to internal threats from employees (83) and third-party contractors (53). Internal threat data compromises are the lowest they have been since 2018.

In comparison, January 1, 2019 to June 30, 2019 saw 588 breaches caused by an external threat actor, 126 breaches caused by an internal threat actor and 89 involved a third-party. The data compromise decrease can be attributed, in part, to more people working from home.

Due to the increase in remote work, employees have less access to the data and systems necessary to easily steal PII. However, businesses and employees are also hyper-focused on preventing identity theft.

Unless there is a significant uptick in data compromises reported, 2020 is on pace to see the lowest number of data breaches and data exposures since 2015.

Year-over-year data breach trends 2020 provided by ITRC
Year-over-year data breach trends 2020 provided by ITRC

With that said, there is reason to believe the lower number of breaches is only temporary. Cybercriminals have been using the billions of data points stolen in data breaches during the last five years to execute different types of scams and attacks, which include phishing, credential stuffing and other exploits that require PII. With so much data being consumed and so much focus on improved cyber-hygiene, both at work and at home, the available pool of useful data is being reduced.

At some point, cybercriminals will have to update their data, which should lead to a return of the normal threat pattern. While there are signs of increased cyberattacks that – if successful – could lead to PII being compromised, it is too early to tell when the uptick may occur. Even then, it is more likely to be a “dimmer switch” approach rather than just flipping on a light switch, meaning it will not happen all at once.

The ITRC will continue to monitor all of the publicly-reported data breaches daily and analyze them to keep businesses and consumers educated on what the cybercriminals are doing.

If someone believes they have had their information exposed as part of a data compromise, or is a victim of identity theft due to a data breach, they can live-chat with an ITRC expert advisor. They can also call toll-free at 888.400.5530. Advisors can help victims create action plans that are tailored to them.

Victims can also download the free ID Theft Help App. The app lets them track their case in a case log, access resources and tips to help them protect their identity and more.

For more information on the ITRC’s data breach tracking and trend analysis, or if your organization would like to subscribe to our monthly data breach product, please email notifiedbyITRC@idtheftcenter.org.

Many professionals view air-travel days as an opportunity to get some extra work done, pay bills online, or distract themselves during their commute by surfing the internet. The convenience and ease of use of modern laptops and iPads have made it easy to stay connected in route. As a result, public Wi-Fi is now commonplace in most major airports and even becoming more common on the airplanes themselves. As with most technological conveniences these days, in addition to the obvious advantages, wifi in airports pose additional risk to consumers who may not be aware that they’re in potentially dangerous ‘hot zones’ for identity theft.

Public wifi is a beacon for those who would seek to harvest your personal information through your internet connection. Free wireless networks are usually not password protected, or have a password that’s publicly available. This means that every time you sign on to a public wifi connection, you’re essentially sharing a connection with any and all strangers in the area. In an airport especially, even more so than in a coffee shop or other place usually associated with public wifi, the number of strangers in your immediate vicinity is usually much higher. Any and all of those have the potential ability to access the same network connection you’re using. All it takes is one malicious user on your network to cause you a lot of trouble.

Anytime you access public connections to the internet, your computer is more exposed to the threats of malware or viruses which may be present on another’s laptop, not to mention the threat of a nefarious fellow traveler snooping through your shared files, shoulder surfing to watch you input your passwords, or otherwise monitoring your internet activity. Most people don’t realize that when sharing a network internet connection with someone, there is no additional firewall or security in place to protect the information stored on your computer. This quite naturally makes places like airports and other areas that offer free public wifi very attractive to would-be identity thieves.

If you can avoid using public wifi altogether, do so…if you just can’t resist checking the scores or the weather while waiting to board your flight or arrive at your intended destination, try to avoid doing potentially dangerous activities like online banking, filing tax returns, or checking any email accounts that might have valuable information stored in it; as this information could be harvested from your machine and used against you. If you know you will be traveling often and find yourself using public wifi normally you may want to look into getting a personal VPN. A personal Virtual Private Network will help protect you against the dangers of public wifi.

If using public wifi unprotected, be wary of any wireless network that shows up with a stronger signal than the network offered by the known provider (in other words, if you’re in the American Airlines terminal, you shouldn’t choose that random linksys server over the one labeled “Americanterminal1access” for example). Often potential hackers will generate their own network signal to have others “hook up” to them, exposing all their information. Other network users will see the stronger signal and connect to it unwittingly, without realizing that they’ve just voluntarily offered up anything that isn’t independently password protected for viewing by the thief.

When using your home wireless connection, ensure that it’s always password protected. Remember, you never know who else may be online.