The last couple of years were rough, especially if we address digital matters such as leaks and cyber security in general. The year of 2020 (and 2021 so far) are the worst years in the last decade — the amount of phishing, of ransomware and hacker attacks across the world is astonishing.
The numerous amounts of data leaks of users’ private info continue to grow at a high rate. These leaks are a matter of big concern for many internet users, because while it is unlikely that a random nobody will become a target for a hacker attack, anyone can become a victim of a massive data breach in just a matter of seconds. While some leaks are very harmful, others are not technically considered as “leaks” at all, despite the media coverage.
Lets take a look at 6 most remarkable data leaks from the past year (and a one from 2019 and see what could’ve been done to prevent or minimise the risks and further damage.
Table of contents
CAM4 database leak
When: March 2020
What happened: Elasticsearch server was breached because of unsafe configuration
What was compromised: 10.88 billion records (including the profiles of at least 6.6 million US users): containing full names & email addresses, sexual orientation, chat transcripts, IP addresses and payment logs
What we have learned from it: If sensitive information from a delicate website is leaked into the hands of cyber criminals, they may try to attempt to blackmail the people from the database to pay them for silence. You can’t be certain that the website server is configured safely, so the only advice here: if you have something to lose (high-ranking job, political reputation or some dark secrets), don’t use these sites at all.
Otherwise: use a different password and a separate credit card, and never give money to the criminals if they are trying to blackmail you, because nobody can guarantee that they won’t expose your private information anyway.
First American Financial Corp. data breach
When: May 2019
What happened: the potential leak of personal data of 885 million users because of a “design defect” on the website
What was compromised: because the exposure of the data was first noticed by the security reporter Brian Krebs, it seems that only several dozens of profiles were actually compromised (accessed without authorization), at least that’s what the company claimed.
What we have learned from it: in terms of cyber security social services can’t actually be trusted so, be sure to remember this while granting them access to your personal data. The most serious potential leak is the Social Security
Number: a dishonest person who obtains it can potentially use it to get other personal information about the owner or just use it to their own benefit.
Zoom 2020 hack
When: April 2020
What happened: the first major hack of the pandemic, when everybody went to work remotely and Zoom service skyrocketed to be a big company (while still having the security problems of a very little company).
What was compromised: about 500,000 existing accounts which were then sold or published on the dark web
What we have learned from it: it seems that hackers used old (back to 2013) databases of credentials and brut forced their way into the accounts. The reason behind their fantastic success of taking over a half of a million accounts is the following: people use the same password everywhere, over and over, through out the years. So, your leaked password from 2013 was used in 2020 to hack your Zoom account. Use strong and different passwords for your accounts.
Nintendo user accounts breach
When: April 2020
What happened: it is unclear, but hackers were somehow able to pass through the Nintendo Network ID authorization
What was compromised: 140 000–300 000 accounts with personal data (names, e-mail addresses) and financial data (some accounts were directly tied to a credit card or PayPal) — no confirmed cases of money theft according to the company. However, some users claimed that their money (up to several hundreds of dollars) were spent for game products and in-game currency which is the known contemporary method of money laundering.
What we have learned from it: Nintendo asked their customers to use the strong passwords and to enable 2-step authentication (which is always the right thing) to prevent further breaches, however the reasons behind this breach still remains a mystery.
Microsoft Exchange hack
When: March 3, 2021
What happened: Cybercriminals managed to target four security flaws in Microsoft Exchange Server email software and used it to gain access to email accounts of at least 30,000 organizations across the US.
What was compromised: it’s classified (because the attack was probably a foreign intervention), but hackers were potentially able to get complete remote control over affected systems, steal data they wanted, and plant the spyware.
What we have learned from it: While no one is protected from a professional hacker attack, it is important to understand that the entry point of the attack was the Microsoft Exchange software. So, manually update your software (both on your PC and on your phone, and don’t forget about your IoT gadgets) or setup automatic updates, use anti-virus software, and you will be safe at least from the known vulnerabilities.
Facebook profile info mass leak
The Great LinkedIn “leak” that happened a few days after is almost identical to this case.
When: April 2021
What happened: some robots have parsed personal information of more than 533 million Facebook users from 106 countries, including over 32 million records on users in the US.
What was compromised: only public data — phone numbers, Facebook ids, full names, locations, birthdates, bios, and, in some cases, email addresses. Nothing private like passwords or inbox conversations was actually leaked.
What we have learned from it: well, as a “leak” it was mostly bogus, the sensational material for the media. However, these kinds of leaks can and sometimes are used in further phishing campaigns. If you don’t want your name and phone number to be sold in the darknet you should probably close your profile right now. Go to your privacy settings and make it private to everyone but friends, this simple step will not allow the robots to parse your data.
As we can see, half of these leaks were caused by insecure passwords and using an open profile on social media.
Remember: while leaks cannot be completely avoided, we all can take necessary measures to minimise their possibility of happening and even reduce it to zero. Here is a list of simple cyber security measures that might help you to stay secure:
- Use strong passwords AND 2FA
- Be careful about what you are sharing online
- Update your software in time on PC AND on mobile phone
- Use the antivirus software and do regular scans
- Learn how to recognize the scam and phishing links/emails. Don’t click the link if you are not sure what you’ll see there.