January 4, 2016

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2015 Data Breaches: A Look at the Biggest Breaches of the Past Year

Cyber criminals were busy in 2015; data breaches were frequent and the damage that they caused was significant. Some reports indicate that there were over 700 data breaches in 2015 alone. And while certain breaches were on the smaller side of the spectrum, 2015 saw some of the largest data breaches ever. Hundreds of millions of people were victims of those unprecedented data breaches, proving that no one is safe from devious hackers who seem to be getting more and more bold.

Healthcare Industry Gets Hit Hard

Every year, major credit bureau Experian releases a data breach industry forecast for the coming year. While they never could have predicted their own major breach in 2015, they did hit the nail on the head when they forecasted the persistent and growing threat of healthcare breaches. The biggest healthcare targets this year were:

  • Anthem – In February 2015, the second-largest U.S. health insurance company reported the biggest healthcare breach in history, with as many as 80 million customers at risk.
  • Premera – Six weeks after the Anthem breach, Premera Blue Cross reported that up to 11 million customers may have been affected by a data breach.
  • CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield – A smaller breach affecting the records of 1.1 million CareFirst members was uncovered in May 2015. The breach however, took place in June 2014 and went undetected for nearly a year.
  • UCLA Health System – 4.5 million patients in the UCLA Health System’s computer network may have had their personal information stolen before July 2015.

Hackers Go After the U.S. Government

Even the U.S. government is not immune when it comes to data breaches. In 2015, data breaches targeting the IRS, OPM, and LEO.gov didn’t sit well with the folks on Capitol Hill:

  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – A breach that authorities believe originated in Russia allowed criminals to steal the tax returns of more than 610,000 Americans in May 2015.
  • Office of Personnel Management (OPM) – One of the largest thefts of government data was announced in June 2015 when as many as four million people may have had their personal records stolen from the Office of Personnel Management.
  • Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal – In November 2015, an FBI-run law enforcement portal — LEO.gov — was breached by a hacker group that stole law enforcement officials’ personal data and posted the information online.

Cyber Criminals with Moral Agendas

Most hackers are in it for the money, but there are others who steal data to make a point. Some of these cyber crusaders made headlines this year for carrying out some of the biggest — and most controversial — data breaches of 2015.

  • Ashley Madison – In July 2015, a hacking group targeted this website for married individuals looking to have an affair. The group was upset that Ashley Madison would not only let clients fully delete their data after they paid a fee — but that the company still kept a record of the supposedly “deleted” information. When the company refused to shut down their website, hackers released the personal information of 37 million users, resulting in a huge fall-out.
  • VTech Holdings Ltd. – The personal information of 6.4 million children and 4.9 million parents was stolen from the Learning Lodge database of Hong Kong-basked VTech Holdings Ltd in December 2015. The hacker said he or she does not plan to do anything with the information but they wanted to show parents how unsafe their children are while using VTech electronic toys.

There’s Hope for a Better 2016

Cyber criminals are getting smarter — but so are we. Consumers are learning how to keep their information safer, while businesses are implementing advanced security measures and developing data breach action plans. This year, the U.S. made the switch from traditional swipe-and-sign credit cards to the new EMV chip-card technology. This technology provides a much higher level of fraud protection and is a major step toward preventing credit card fraud and identity theft.

It may feel like the “bad guys” are getting more stealthy when it comes to data breaches, but don’t worry — so are the “good guys.” We think there’s a lot of hope for a much more secure 2016!

Image courtesy of Flickr user Claus Rebler.

Judy Leary

President at IdentityForce
For Judy, identity theft protection is in her DNA—her dad started IdentityForce’s parent company in the 70s, and in the 80s, she and her brother came on board. She loves her dedicated team and how much they care about every member, partner, and supplier. In addition to protection against identity theft, Judy is passionate about travel (Aruba is her “happy place”!) and giving back. She volunteers for the Alzheimer’s Association, Mazie Mentoring Program, and Sunshine Golden Retriever Rescue. She’s also a proud mom to 2 grown daughters and 3 rescue dogs.

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