In late July, Capital One Bank announced that 106 million of its card holders had their data compromised in a massive breach that stretched over four months. Among the victims, 140,000 customers had their Social Security numbers swiped and approximately 80,000 had their linked checking account numbers stolen. No credit card numbers were reported to have been lifted in the breach.
The company fixed the vulnerability immediately and promised to alert all victims of the breach about their compromised data. The alleged hacker has been apprehended and steps are being taken to ensure a breach of this magnitude doesn’t happen again.
The Capital One issue was hardly the first of its kind to hit the news in recent years. Factors like online data and sophisticated hacking tools have spawned a wave of data breaches that have hit all kinds of businesses and service providers, from police departments to eateries, major retailers and online search engines.
In light of the multiple and wide-reaching data breaches over the past few years, experts recommend that everyone, even those who are not Capital One credit card holders, take the following 5 steps to protect their information from hackers:
- Freeze your credit – Placing a freeze on your credit is the first and most crucial step you can take to stop scammers from making use of your information. A credit freeze will not affect your credit score, but does serve as a red flag for lenders and credit companies by alerting them to the fact that you may have been a victim of fraud. Consequently, hackers will not be able to open a new line of credit or apply for a loan in your name.
You can now freeze your credit at no cost at all three of the major credit bureaus, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. You’ll need to provide some basic information, including your date of birth and your Social Security number. You’ll receive a PIN for the freeze that will need to be used for lifting the freeze should the need arise.
- Enable two-factor authentication – If you haven’t already, change all of your logins to two-factor (also called “multi-factor”) authentication. Whenever possible, choose a non-password authentication, like face recognition or thumbprint sign-in. This will provide an extra layer of protection against hackers and scammers trying to access your account.
- Sign up for credit monitoring – Capital One is offering free credit monitoring for all victims of the data breach. You can find out more about this offer and general information about the Capital One data breach here.
Even if you’re not a Capital One card holder, you might want to consider signing up for credit monitoring to prevent being a victim of a data breach in the future. The service will immediately notify you about any suspicious activity on your accounts so you can stop potential hackers in their tracks. Credit monitoring will run you $10-$30 a month, but you’ll have the security of knowing that the company is on the lookout for any signs of trouble with your credit.
- Use strong, unique passwords – Always choose strong passwords for all your accounts and use different passwords for each login. Your passwords should be at least eight characters long, and use a variety of numbers, letters and symbols. Vary your capitalization use as well, and never use your name, phone number or a common phrase as your password.If you’ve been using your current passwords for a while, consider changing them up now. You can make this task easier by using a password aggregator like LastPass or Sticky Password.
- Strengthen your security and spam settings – Never answer emails asking you to share sensitive data, even when they appear to be from legitimate companies. Make sure your devices are fully updated, and keep your spam settings on their strongest levels. It’s also a good idea to keep your social media accounts as private as possible to keep scammers from finding out personal details about your life which they can use to crack open your passwords.
Hackers never stop trying to get at your data, but with the right protective measures in place, you can keep them from seeing success.