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Since 2005, the Identity Theft Resource Center has compiled publicly-reported U.S. data breaches as part of our data breach tracking efforts. While our 2019 Data Breach Report revealed an annual 17 percent increase in data breaches compared to 2018, there has since been a data breach decrease reported during the first quarter of 2020, both in the number of incidents and individuals impacted.

In the first quarter of 2020, there were 337 publicly reported breaches and exposures. During the same time period in 2019, 520 data events were reported, which means there have been nearly 185 fewer breaches/exposures reported in 2020. In terms of people impacted, 131 million individuals were affected from January through March of 2020. While that might sound like a lot, 442 million people had their data compromised during that same timeframe in 2019. Overall, the number of data compromises decreased by nearly 35 percent, and the number of people affected by 66 percent in the first three months of 2020. Any decrease in data compromises is a good thing, but it’s important to understand what’s behind the numbers dropping due to the data breach decrease.

The ITRC tracks both publicly reported data breaches and data exposures in a database containing 25 different information fields and 63 different identity attributes that are updated daily. While the ITRC has one of the most comprehensive repositories of data compromises, not all incidents are publicly reported; there can be significant delays between when a breach occurs and is publicly reported. The result of these factors can produce a reduction of publicly reported data events.

There are other reasons why the ITRC’s data could be different from other data breach reports – especially those that are reporting an increase in data compromises in Q1 2020. For example, the ITRC reports the number of records compromised based on the number of individuals impacted, not the number of records stolen or exposed. We believe this methodology gives a more accurate view of the human impact of a data breach or exposure since a single person may have multiple records involved in a single event.

The COVID-19 pandemic could have also played a role in the data breach decrease (particularly in March) as threat actors turned their attention to using the data they already had to launch phishing attacks and COVID-19 scams rather than launching new mass cyberattacks. However, there is no substantive proof of why there was such a drastic decline in the first quarter numbers. With that said, the ITRC believes data breaches could return to a more traditional trendline later in 2020.

If someone believes they have had their information exposed as part of a data breach, 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 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.

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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.