In the world of data security, when it rains, it pours — and the leaks just keep coming. We’ve gone over some serious data breaches in the past, but a newly found database of more than 80 million U.S. households has security researches extremely concerned.
This cloud database was discovered by an Israeli team of data security experts, who found that it contained a range of extremely private information — including names, ages, and even income levels and marital status. What’s more, the researches don’t even know who compiled this data and what they were planning with it, but what’s interesting about this breach is everyone in the database is over age 40.
The more of our lives that we put on the internet, the greater risk we face of having our private information made public. This breach is just the latest entry in the recent history of rampant data abuse, and a perfect example of how ignorance and greed can expose millions of innocents to the dangers of cyberspace.
How did researchers find the data breach?
The team at vpnMentor, an Israel company, stumbled upon the breach by accident while performing an internet-wide sweep of unsecured cloud databases.
As data security researchers, vpnMentor often finds databases filled with personal information that are left without proper protection. They take it upon themselves to let the owners of these archives know their security flaws so they have the chance to fix them and, hopefully, protect their customers’ information.
This particular database, however, was extremely unusual even for them. The archive contained records for over 80 million U.S. households, and consisted mostly of people aged 40 and over.
Some of the information inside, including gender, income level, and marital status, was coded. Data like names and addresses, however, was left unencrypted and easy to see. Worst of all, the entire database was left without any kind of password — a sitting duck for cybercriminals.
How to protect yourself from this 80 million-strong data breach
As of now, the database is thankfully offline. vpnMentor reached out to Microsoft, who was hosting the database through its web services on behalf of the mysterious owner. Microsoft claims to have contacted the database owner, and is supposedly working with them to purge the information from the internet until it can be properly secured.
Right now, there isn’t a way to view if you were affected by the breach, but judging by the content of the database, you’re most vulnerable if you’re over 40 and live in the U.S. The majority of the people in the archive were seniors, which are typically prime targets for fraudsters and scam artists. This has researchers worried the data could be used for targeted fraud and phishing schemes.
To keep yourself as safe as possible, your best bet is to take extra precaution when checking email or speaking to unknown callers. If anyone claims to need access to personal information like a social security number or credit card, don’t give it to them.
Always verify the source before divulging personal information, since scammers like to impersonate banks, utility companies, and service providers. The days of the classic Nigerian Prince scam are long gone.
Most importantly, try to be aware of what information you’re putting online via social media or service accounts. A good rule of thumb to follow is this: if you wouldn’t want it public, don’t put it online.