Data Breaches

Love Your Data and Look After It

A data breach means that your private information such as login credentials and credit card details has been leaked or stolen from a service or website.

Just like a stolen painting will get sold on through an underground or black market, the same is true for your data.

Your info may be used, sold or grouped together with more of your data from other breaches, and then resold. It’s developed into a big business over the years.

Taking care of your things means peace of mind.

Where are your house keys and phone right now?

You probably know the answer without needing to look very hard.

What about your data, do you know where that is right now?

Just as we look after our physical belongings that are important and useful, so we need to look after our digital things, too.

Here are some different types of data that are commonly stolen in breaches. Why might this data be important to keep safe?

Match the data to a reason to look after it

I care about my safety and identity

I want to look after my financial information

I want to look after my right to privacy

I want to look after my reputation

Websites you visit, clubs and memberships you join, things you search

Your credit card details, tax ID/social security number

Your address, phone number

Your social media posts, email content, photos

Match the data to a reason to look after it

Websites you visit, clubs and memberships you join, things you search

I want to look after my reputation

I want to look after my financial information

I want to look after my right to privacy

I care about my safety and identity

Your credit card details, tax ID/social security number

I want to look after my reputation

I want to look after my financial information

I want to look after my right to privacy

I care about my safety and identity

Your address, phone number

I want to look after my reputation

I want to look after my financial information

I want to look after my right to privacy

I care about my safety and identity

Your social media posts, email content, photos

I want to look after my reputation

I want to look after my financial information

I want to look after my right to privacy

I care about my safety and identity


So what can you do to keep this valuable information safe?

Tip: If you hear about a breach, act quickly.

In your offline life, you’ve probably developed mental shortcuts that help keep you safe. If you can’t find your bank card, you cancel or freeze it just in case it’s been stolen. Apply the same logic to your digital life. If you use the website that had the breach – assume you were part of it.

Tip: The best time to protect yourself from a data breach? Before it happens.

You can never be completely sure that your data won’t be stolen in a breach.

But there’s a lot you can do beforehand to protect yourself.

Follow these steps to look after your data

(You can download this action list as a PDF cheat sheet in English, Français, Deutsch)

Responding to a breach...

  1. Change your passwords
    Start with the service that was breached and the things you use most. Think banking, email, online shopping, social media.
  2. Turn on 2FA (‘two factor authentication’)
    This makes it harder for someone to get into your account by asking for two codes or ‘factors’ before your account can be unlocked. Even if someone has your password, they don’t have the second ‘factor’ - often a code sent to your phone. The Authy website lets you search for platforms that have 2FA and walks you through the setup.
  3. Notify your bank and freeze your credit score, if needed
    Depending on the breach, you may want to contact your bank and credit bureau (or whichever organisation holds credit scores in your country). This prevents people from applying for new credit cards in your name, and so stops the problem spreading. Local consumer advocacy groups can also help. Your bank will talk you through whether you need new account numbers and cards.
  4. Tell your ‘trust circle’ what’s happened
    This is your close group of friends and relatives. It puts them on the lookout for any unusual phone calls or emails from potential scammers.

    Now you can look at what to do to contain the damage of the actual breach.
  5. See what you can find online
    You may want to check whether your personal information is out there. What information can you find whilst casually looking? Start with your normal search engine and use search terms that aren’t too revealing on their own, i.e. search your name and the last four digits of your phone number, but not your whole phone number. Firefox Monitor lets you search for whether your information has been breached and you can sign up there for the latest breach news.
  6. Petition websites directly to remove your data
    Let's say you’ve got a job interview coming up and aren’t happy with what search results show about you. You can contact a website directly to remove your data, according to your rights as set out in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). A lot of websites are keen to comply with the new data protection laws brought in by GDPR, so if you ask them to take down information, they’ll often do so quickly to avoid hassle and cost. Generally speaking, if the product or service is offered within the EU, then the data processing needs to comply with the GDPR, whether or not the company or you are physically located there.
    You can also use services that will get your data deleted for you. Websites such as Reputation Defender, Privacy Duck, and Abine’s ‘Delete Me’ will contact websites to delete your information. They charge fees but also have more information on how you can do it yourself, too.

Steps that you can take anytime...

  1. Look at what data of yours is accessible online
    (Start with important accounts like email, banking, shopping and chat)
    Ask yourself:
    • Where do I have accounts with data on me? How could this be problematic if breached?
    • Why is it there? (Does it need to be?)
    • What is their security like? Go into the website’s privacy policy or terms of service and look for terms like: ‘encrypted at rest’ or ‘encrypted in transit’, which mean your data is stored securely.
    • What is their access policy and length of storage? Does it say in the terms of service if all staff can access your information? What’s their data retention policy? If a website doesn’t mention how long they keep your data for- the answer is probably forever.
  2. Regularly de-clutter and reduce
    If services don’t have your data, then it can’t leak or breach. If they only have information from the last three months, that's all that can be breached. So take a regular approach to de-cluttering your online data. Ask yourself: ‘Why would I keep this?’ Delete what you don’t need and download anything you do, so that you can remove the data from the website or app.
  3. Check again
    Can I strengthen my protections with better passwords and 2FA? Do your security and system updates.
  4. Tell companies to take better care of your data
    Some people say that there will always be breaches, just like there will always be crime. But companies can also do more to protect your data. Contacting them can get their attention that they need to listen and act. For example, send a tweet that says something like ‘we want to know how long you keep our data, it should not be forever.’

Ready to practice?

These are all real types of breaches, what should you do?

BANK BREACH

Leaked data: credit card numbers

Tap to find out what to do

Click to find out what to do

Actions to take

Contact your credit bureau and bank.

Review your public data. Are there things online that might help people pose as you or answer your security questions (such as the city you live in)? Make sure your email and social media have the lowest access privileges, and all accounts have strong unique passwords and 2FA.

SOCIAL MEDIA BREACH

Leaked data: chats, posts, account information

Tap to find out what to do

Click to find out what to do

Actions to take

Change your password (is it strong and unique?).

Set up 2FA.

Do a security checkup to see who’s been in your account and what apps are authorised.

Review the account recovery options.

APP BREACH

Leaked data: this might be fitness and workout info for a fitness app, or menstrual cycle information for a period tracking app

Tap to find out what to do

Click to find out what to do

Actions to take

Set up a strong, unique password.

Consider removing your data by downloading it and then deleting it from the service.

Consider deleting and removing your account.

Treat your data as something precious.

The fewer pieces of information about you that are available and accessible online, the harder it is for others to pretend to be you. So look after your data. It’s yours.