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What a data breach victim looks like

May 16, 20232 min read

Just like young Kevin here in the title picture of this post, being involved in a data breach can age you.

My first experience of a loss of personal data was when it happened to a family member. This was years ago when the internet was only just getting going. It involved identity theft and was extremely unpleasant. The banks and the police at the time were particularly useless. Both are much better these days.

If you have never had to witness someone's life implode as a criminal systematically destroys their finances and their reputation, pray that you never have to.

We were lucky. Eventually, together, we were able to work out what had gone wrong and could take action to put things right. Too few such cases are able to reach such a conslusion.

Since then, I've been involved in the responses to a number of data breaches. Most of them you will never have heard of. A few made it into the media.

There is nothing quite like that first meeting with company directors or managers after a data breach has been identified. They all share two things in common,

  1. The colour and life has drained out of their faces;

  2. They wish they had paid more attention to data protection and privacy issues the day before the breach.

Their eyes take on that, "thousand yard stare" whenever they need to make decisions about what should happen next.

Some shout and bellow. Others go uncomfortably quiet. They all cope. Eventually. Some quicker than others.

As for the true victims of a data breach, it is the not knowing that can get them. The uncertainty: Is my information compromised or not? Will my bank cards still work? Is there anything left in my account? Why can't I get into my email? Who else is using my name and face on a passport? How did all these loans get taken out in my name? Where did all my work documents go? How did my darkest secrets end up on that social media account??

The sad fact is that data breaches are now a fact of life. They are inevitable. It is a matter of when, not if, they will happen.

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Allan Simpson

Privacy management blogger

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