773 Million Consumer Accounts Had Email and Passwords Exposed
Data was briefly posted on hacking website. Here's how to protect yourself.
Almost 773 million consumer accounts worldwide had email addresses and passwords posted on a hacking website, making their social media and financial accounts vulnerable to cybercriminals.
The personal information, which came from previous security breaches at numerous websites, has since been removed. But it's a reminder that consumers should regularly change passwords for their email, social media, online banking, credit card and other important accounts. (Other protective measures are outlined below).
"In general, you should always assume there's a strong chance that any account-password combo you have could be compromised," says Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy and technology policy for Consumer Reports. "So you should act accordingly."
How to Keep Your Data Safe
Here are four easy tips to help keep you safe online.
Use an alternate email: Most consumers are bombarded with requests for an email address. Sometimes you can simply refuse. But when you can't, make sure you're using an alternate email, known as a dedicated burner email, for your drugstore coupons and as the login for your favorite fishing forum. Keep a separate email, with a unique password, for your truly important accounts and don't ever give it out casually.
Don't reuse passwords: Hackers depend on the laziness of consumers. Cybercrooks may snag a password from a relatively inconsequential and easy-to-hack site--say a message board. And then hope that you used that same password for your on-line banking. While having a strong password is important, using a unique one is an even stronger defense, according to our experts. Having trouble keeping track of all your passwords? "Use a password manager, or just write them down in a hidden journal," says Brookman.
Freeze your credit: In the wake of breaches of financial data, like the massive one at Equifax, it has become easier to freeze your credit. You can do so for free at the four credit bureaus. That prevents cybercriminals from taking out a loan or opening a credit card in your name. If you need to access your credit, you can temporarily lift the freeze, and re-institute it once you've gotten your loan or new account.
Monitor your accounts: Even after you've taken these sensible precautions, it's important to take a moment to regularly check your important accounts for unusual or fraudulent activity and report any suspicious transactions immediately.
Passing the Password Test
What's your password strategy when it comes to protecting your online accounts? On the "Consumer 101" TV show, a Consumer Reports expert explains what you need to know about password managers.