According to the latest findings of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, more than 510.4 million records have been exposed since the beginning of 2005. There were 1,703 data breaches that resulted in that much information being accessed.
The vast majority of those incidents were the result of an intentional effort to access or expose consumer information. A total of more than 329.3 million of those records were breached as the result of hacking or malware, payment card fraud like the use of a skimming device and intentional breaches by insiders, the PRC's report said. This type of attack has been effective as well, because that much information was stolen in just 493 security lapses.
Another 14.7 million of those breaches were the result of what the PRC defines as "unintended disclosure," or when sensitive information is mishandled, accidentally posted online or sent to the wrong person via email, fax or U.S. mail. Physical loss and portable devices - when either paper records or a laptop, smartphone, USB drive, CD or other type of portable information containing sensitive data is lost or stolen - also posed a large problem. In the 713 incidents of this type, 157.6 records were exposed.
More than 20 percent of all records breached were from retail or merchant businesses, the report found. In all, 103.5 million consumers were affected by 116 breaches. The most egregious recent incident came when Citigroup's mobile banking application for iPhone accidentally could have exposed 117,000 until an upgrade was released to fix the problem. Counted altogether, businesses of all types exposed sensitive personal information for 356.6 million Americans over the last five years.
Many experts advise that consumers who suspect they may have been victimized by a data breach should check their credit reports and monthly statements for any discrepancies or unexpected findings that may be indicative of an identity theft. However, if consumers would like to be more proactive in protecting their personal information, they may want to consider enrolling in a credit monitoring service. Doing so would allow them to learn when someone uses their information to open a line of credit.