You aren’t a small business; your devices are not filled with payment information or other sensitive data that criminals can use to enjoy a major payday. If a hacker got into your home computer, they would find pictures of your family and maybe a few old documents — and why would they want those? Because you don’t consider yourself a prime target, you might not invest in security tools that keep your devices and data safe.
However, once a cybercriminal has access to your home network, they can acquire more than the files stored at the front of your hard drive. Your digital devices are filled with more valuable data than you might expect, and hackers have many ways of profiting from your personal information.
Hackers Sell Personal Information To Identity Thieves
Though it may be surprising, cybercriminals are rarely masters of all types of online crime. There are cybercriminals who specialize in developing malware; there are cybercriminals who specialize in tricking users into revealing sensitive information; and there are cybercriminals who know how to utilize private data. Most often, the cybercriminal who steals your data doesn’t make use of it. Rather, they sell it to an individual or criminal organization that has experience pulling out valuable information — usually with the intent to steal your identity.
Identity theft is a remarkably devastating crime in which a victim’s personal information is used by criminals to gain benefits at the victim’s expense. Identity thieves might use your social security number to take out personal loans and open credit cards, eviscerating your credit score. They might make fraudulent claims on your insurance policies or withdraw money from your bank accounts. Recovering from identity theft might take years, so it is imperative that you do what you can to protect your most sensitive information from cyberattack. You might also make use of ID security tools, which will alert you when your data is released in a breach and give you time to freeze your credit and notify your accounts of the potential for unauthorized activity.
Data Can Help Hackers Infiltrate Locked Accounts
You might be a stranger to a cybercriminal attacking your device, but you won’t be a stranger for long. Once they have access to the personal information stored on your device, they have the potential to learn some of your most intimate details. They could have names, birthdates and pictures of your family members; they could know where you work and how much you earn; and they might even know your preferences in media, to include your favorite movies, books, TV series and games.
All of this information aids identity thieves, but it also helps other types of cybercriminals in their pursuit to access more of your online accounts. Often, web users utilize private information in usernames and passwords, as this information seems difficult for others to find but is relatively easy for individuals to remember. If you don’t want your personal data to be used against you, you should try to randomize your login credentials, perhaps relying on a password manager to produce arbitrary codes that hackers will never be able to guess.
Criminals Can Use Personal Information In Blackmail And Extortion
Perhaps the scariest application of your personal information is in blackmail. Blackmail is a criminal offense in which one party leverages compromising or damaging information to compel another party to act in certain ways. Often, cybercriminals with access to your devices will search for potentially embarrassing materials, like nude photos, and demand something from you. Most often, they will ask for payments of some kind, but they might also demand login credentials to valuable accounts, like your bank account or your employer’s network. If you fail to give into their demands, they might post what they find on your social media pages or use your email account to send the information to your family, friends and colleagues.
If you are blackmailed by a hacker, you should carefully document every interaction and avoid giving into their demands. Rarely does payment result in an end to the harassment; though you may experience some embarrassment from the release of your information, it will end the contact between you and the blackmailer much sooner. The best way to avoid falling victim to blackmail is to prevent compromising data from being stored on your devices. Then, cybercriminals will have no leverage against you.
Whether you realize it or not, your devices are filled with valuable data, and you need to put effort into keeping that data safe. With the right cybersecurity tools and practices, you can keep your information away from cybercriminals and avoid falling victim to any of the above crimes.