Data Breaches: A Year in Review

2011 was a significant year for data security, with some of the biggest data breaches in our history reported. So far in 2011, we’ve tracked 535 breaches involving 30.4 million sensitive records. This brings the total reported records breached in the U.S. since 2005 to the alarming number of 543 million.

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has been tracking breaches since 2005 and publishes aChronology of Data Breaches. The Chronology counts the number of records leaked that contain information useful to identity thieves, such as Social Security numbers, financial account numbers, driver's license numbers – and in some states, medical information.

Read our list of the top half dozen most significant data breaches in 2011.

Are the Businesses You Frequent or Work for Exposing You to an Identity Thief?

When we think about data breaches, we often worry about malicious-minded computer hackers exploiting software flaws, or perhaps Internet criminals seeking to enrich themselves at our expense. But the truth is that errors and negligence within the workplace are a significant cause of data breaches that compromise sensitive personal information.

Thus, a critical starting point for preventing future security breaches (and the identity theft that can follow) is developing ironclad policies and practices for handling personal information from within the workplace.

Data Breaches: Our Latest YouTube Video and Tips for Consumers

Since Privacy Rights Clearinghouse (PRC) began tracking data breaches in 2005, our records show that more than 563 million records have been reported leaked. This number is significantly lower than the actual figure, however. In many cases, the number of exposed records is either not known or is not reported to the news media or to state and federal reporting authorities.

In most states, businesses are required by law to notify individuals when a data breach compromises personal information that is likely to lead to financial identity theft.  Even when it is not required by law, many companies will notify customers as a courtesy. This means there is a very good chance you will receive a breach notification at some point.

In our latest short film, Data Breaches: Know Your Rights, we explore how a typical consumer may respond to such a notification. The film is the fifth in a six-part YouTube series on important privacy topics.

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