by Terry Hearn
High street chains have been alerting customers to data breaches with what seems like increasing regularity in recent years. In 2018 alone, British Airways, Butlins, Ticketmaster and Dixons Carphone have been among the most high-profile companies to have suffered data breaches, that have seen millions of customers’ information put at risk.
But what can you do if your data has been compromised?
Here are some of the tell-tale warning signs that you may have been attacked, and advice on how you can prevent it from happening again.
Data use is much higher than normal
Not all attacks are easy to spot. Some may use the power of your computer for other tasks that are conducted in the background. You may not even recognise it as an attack at first, but if you notice that your device is experiencing a significant slowdown or webpages are taking a long time to load, it could be an indication of an attack.
One way to confirm your suspicions is by checking your monthly data usage. Most ISPs offer some form of data monitor, so you can keep an eye on how much data you are using. If you can identify spikes in use that do not match your regular activity, it is a good indication that you may have malicious software on your device.
Emails/social media messages you didn’t send
While it is common to regularly see friend requests on social media, an invitation or friend request from someone who you are already connected to should be considered a red flag. If you spot this, or a friend asks you about an invitation that you didn’t send, it is likely that someone in your network has been hacked.
At this point it is important to notify your friend and the site that a potential breach has been spotted. Similarly, a breached email account could be used to send phishing emails to people in your address book, so keep an eye on your ‘sent’ folder for any suspicious emails.
Whether you have been the victim or not, it is good practice to use two-factor authentication to keep your accounts secure.
Your password isn’t working
One of the most common ways to acquiring people’s passwords is a phishing attack. Phishing emails are fraudulent messages that may look very authentic, and claim to be a trusted company requesting that a user updates their details. If this fools the user, then hackers can easily use the information provided to seize control of the account.
If your information was taken during a breach, it is likely that you will begin to receive an increased number of emails, so be especially critical. If you receive a suspicious email do not reply to it directly and do not interact with any links or attachments. Instead, contact the company by phone or email to verify the email’s authenticity.
If a password you are using regularly stops working, the first step is to not panic, and to make sure that you have entered it correctly. Secondly, report the breached account to the website. Hopefully, they will be able to confirm if there has been an error on the site or if your account has actually been compromised. It is important to never reuse passwords because if one account is breached, the chance of others with the same login details also being affected rises significantly.
It is also important to keep a close eye on your bank statements. If you notice a strange transaction be sure to query it with your bank immediately. Acting quickly will give you the best chance of cancelling suspicious transactions and will allow you to prevent the situation getting out of hand – If someone has your payment details, it is unlikely they will stop with one or two purchases.
Email confirmations can flag irregular activity, but fake receipts or alerts are also a common phishing technique, so be sure to verify the transaction via email or telephone to make sure you are talking to the company involved.
If you are the victim of an attack be sure to update your passwords and cancel your cards to stop repeat attacks.
If you see one of these then it’s safe to assume a breach has occurred. A ransomware attack typically installs malware on your device which locks your data away and then demands a ransom for its release. In some cases there may be a time limit, with the threat of your data being deleted if you do not pay.
Thankfully, minimising the threat of this type of attack is fairly simple. If you perform regular backups of your data, either on your local network or in the cloud, you can just restore your computer and recover the data from your backup. A good antivirus system can remove the malware to prevent the issue from being repeated.
Of course, it is best to prevent the software being installed on your system in the first instance. Antivirus options that come with Ransomware Protection are ideal for ensuring that malicious software doesn’t make it on to your device in the first place, but this isn’t the only defence your security set up needs.
There are a wide range of situations through which your data can be compromised, and one way to protect yourself even when using things like unsecured wi-fi or shared devices is to use a VPN service alongside antivirus. This ensures that the information you send online, like personal and private data, is heavily encrypted and can’t be stolen or compromised.
In many of these examples, the issues could be small problems that the user might otherwise ignore, and not recognise as being connected to something more serious. But, if you suspect your data has become vulnerable, it is important to act swiftly to minimise the potential damage.