429 Million Identities Were Stolen in Data Breaches Last Year

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Data breaches and other security crimes surged ahead in 2015, a new study found.

A total of 429 million identities were stolen last year as a result of data breaches, according to Symantec.

The security software company’s latest Internet Security Threat Report, released on April 12, notes that is a 23% increase from the prior year.

There were also a record nine mega-breaches reported last year. Mega-breaches are defined as data breaches involving more than 10 million records.

Additionally, the report found that crypto-ransomware attacks increased by 35% last year. This type of attack involves using malicious software to encrypt a victim’s computer files and block the victim from accessing them until a ransom is paid.

Ransomware called “CryptoWall” even prompted the FBI to issue a public warning last year, calling it “the most current and significant ransomware threat targeting U.S. individuals and businesses.”

Symantec also reported that more than 75% of all legitimate websites have vulnerabilities that have yet to be patched. And 15% of legitimate sites’ vulnerabilities are considered critical, “which means it takes trivial effort for cybercriminals to gain access and manipulate these sites for their own purposes,” the report states.

Symantec, which is known for software like Norton Antivirus, offers consumers the following tips to protect themselves.

1. Use Strong Passwords

Use strong and unique passwords for your accounts. Change passwords every three months, and never reuse your passwords. Additionally, consider using a password manager to further protect your information. (Need password ideas? These are 25 passwords to immediately cross off the list of possibilities.)

2. Think Before You Click

Opening the wrong attachment can introduce malware to your system. Never view, open or copy email attachments unless you are expecting the email and trust the sender.

3. Be Wary of Scareware Tactics

Versions of software that claim to be free, cracked or pirated can expose you to malware. Social engineering and ransomware attacks will attempt to trick you into thinking your computer is infected and get you to buy useless software or pay money directly to have it removed.

4. Safeguard Your Personal Data

The information you share about yourself online puts you at risk for social engineered attacks. (You can read more about identity theft protection here.) Limit the amount of personal information you share on social networks and online, including login information, birth dates and pet names.

And, if you have reason to believe your personal information was compromised, you can keep an eye on your credit. A sudden drop in credit scores, for instance, is a sign your identity has been stolen. You can view your two credit scores for free each month on Credit.com.

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