Online Identity Theft: The Story of @N

Posted by · March 4, 2016 10:07 am

Have you heard of the story of @N? It’s a terrifying narrative, best told around the campfire. It haunts children’s dreams at night. It’s a twisted tale… of online identity theft. And the worst part is, it could happen to you too.

Think about it. You trust numerous online retailers with your personal and credit card information, all for the sake of easy purchasing. Does that mean you are in safe hands? Not by a longshot. When companies are targeted, hackers don’t hesitate to pull out all the stops to get valuable information. In addition to their technical knowledge, they also have a secret weapon at their disposal – human error.

A company’s security measures can be top notch, but they can fail if the human interaction isn’t up to par, just like with @N. In his case, social engineering and lack of PCI compliance played a central role in his information being held hostage. The collateral at risk? His Twitter handle, @N, worth an estimated $50,000.

Easy ways to protect yourself from online identify theft:

  • Two-factor authentication – Google uses it, Facebook and Twitter too. Use it.
  • Strong passwords – You think Pa$$123 or qwertyuiop are safe passwords? You’re smarter than that.
  • Watch out for phishing scams – Don’t open that sketchy email from your uncle or a prince from Nigeria. Trust your gut.
  • Update your privacy settings – Make your personal information private on your social accounts. Hackers often use information like birthdays to get to their end game.

StoryofN_02In 2014 over one billion personal records were compromised (remember the Home Depot breach?). There are steps companies take to help prevent data loss, but nothing is 100% foolproof. In a recent CyberEdge survey a surprising number of companies, over a quarter, did not think a security threat would happen to them in 2015. Yet multiple industries were hit with successful data breaches in 2015 and a shocking 71% percent of the companies openly admitted they were victims in 2014.

Industries like healthcare continue to be on high alert as they were heavily targeted in 2015. Already, these breaches are on track to cost the healthcare industry over $5.6 billion annually.

Trends expected to continue in 2016:

  • Security breaches in the healthcare industry will continue to rise.
  • Educational institutions being targeted for student data.
  • Hackers using social engineering to manipulate and exploit human interactions.
  • Targeted attacks on individuals or businesses for blackmail or ransom.

At best @N’s recount is a cautionary tale of how deep a hacker will go to steal your identity. Using public information from multiple accounts and social profiles to reach their goal.

Even if you follow as many best practices as you can – never let your guard down. Data breaches from are happening all the time, they can happen to anyone, anywhere. Hotels, healthcare, retail, the IRS. No one is safe.

As for @N, he eventually got his Twitter account restored.


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