Getting hacked has become a catch-all term. It can refer to users getting phished, DDoS attacks, website alteration, social engineering, or even something as large as Heartbleed, which was a coding error resulting in a vulnerability to hackers. These perceptions are mistaken. Hacking is when someone’s personal or financial details are exposed, and almost half of Americans fell victim to hacking in the last 12 months alone.
According to a report from the Ponemon Institute and CNN Money, 110 million Americans — or 47 percent of the adult U.S. population, had their personal information compromised in just one year. The breaches were spread across 432 million accounts. However, these numbers may not be entirely accurate, according to Jose Pagliery, a CNN Money cybersecurity reporter.
The exact number of exposed accounts is hard to pin down, because some companies — such as AOL and eBay– aren’t fully transparent about the details of their cyber breaches. But that’s the best estimate available with the data tracked by the Identity Theft Resource Center and CNNMoney’s own review of corporate disclosures.
The actual figure isn’t nearly as important as what is exposed. According to Pagliery, the exposed data is typically “personal information, such as your name, debit or credit card, email, phone number, birthday, password, security questions and physical address.”
Hacking attacks have increased, with data thieves working in teams and developing very targeted malware to serve their purposes. And it’s a very profitable business, especially in the gaming world, where real money is pumped into video games through micro-transactions.
In addition to the growing sophistication, users are simply using more online tools. “Shopping, banking and socializing are now chiefly digital endeavors for many people. Stores rely on the Internet to conduct and process all transactions. As a result, your data is everywhere,” Pagliery points out.
With the convergence of high traffic, real money and poor security protocols, there can be disastrous results. The data breach from Target exposed 40 million credit and debit cards, Snapchat is now being audited by the FTC, and eBay may have exposed every customer’s data.
If businesses and users that rely on the Internet for the majority of their interaction don’t tighten up protocols, things are only going to get worse. Flimsy passwords and shoddy security infrastructure don’t stand a chance in the face of hackers.