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California AG: Many Data Breaches Were Avoidable

The number of people impacted by data breaches continues to grow, and California is no exception, where millions of people had their personal information exposed in breaches last year alone.

In 2012, some 2.5 million state residents had sensitive personal or financial information exposed in just 131 data breaches reported to the government, according to a new study from the office of Attorney General Kamala Harris. However, if proper safeguards had been in place where those incidents took place, they could have prevented the exposure of data of 1.4 million people (who were affected by 28 percent of the breaches).

These findings are consistent with what security experts have been seeing across the board.

“Encryption is the often the critical difference between secure information and compromised information put at risk.” says Brian McGinley, a security expert and CEO of Identity Theft 911 Consulting. He adds that today’s encryption programs are also easily implemented, unlike programs in the past.

McGinley says that any type of organization that collects personal data — commercial, financial services, education, healthcare, utilities and government entities alike — is at risk for a data breach.

In all, the average breach exposed about 22,500 people, but median incidents only affected about 2,500 people, due in large part to the fact that five of them each exposed 100,000 or more consumers. More than half of all breaches in 2012 exposed consumers’ Social Security numbers, and about the same number were caused by hacking attacks. The other 45 percent were the result of mistakes or a failure to put proper security measures into place.

“Data breaches are a serious threat to individuals’ privacy, finances and even personal security,” Harris said. “Companies and government agencies must do more to protect people by protecting data.”

Interestingly, the retail industry was responsible for the largest number of breaches of any sector, the report said. It suffered 34 breaches, or slightly more than a quarter of them. However, the finance and insurance industry wasn’t far behind at 30, or 23 percent of these occurrences.

Whenever a person’s sensitive data is exposed in a breach, they should take the time to look over all their financial documents, including their credit reports, as a means of determining whether they have become the victims of identity theft following the incident.

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