The risks are evident. Private information of all kinds—personal, financial, medical—resides on the computers of nearly every business. Hackers and identity thieves increasingly are compromising system vulnerabilities, seeking to break in and exploit the details.
Hacking has been generating high-profile news lately. Citigroup warned 360,000 credit card customers that some of their account data was compromised. AT&T apologized to 114,000 new iPad owners, including celebrities, after hackers leaked their email addresses to an online gossip site. Privacy breaches, both accidental and criminal, are increasing steadily, along with their costs.
Protected personal information is generally defined as confidential data that could cause financial harm to a person if unauthorized users gain access. Examples are Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers or equivalent, bank account or credit card numbers, and certain medical or healthcare information.
Even unauthorized release of email addresses and passwords can make consumers vulnerable, because criminals pretending to be banks or trusted retailers send targeted “phishing” emails seeking data that would expose financial accounts to fraudulent transactions. Hackers also take advantage of the fact that many consumers use the same password for all of their accounts.