Have We Become Desensitized to Data Breaches?

Sometime in March 2021, news broke that Facebook failed to report a significant data breach that occurred in August 2019 in which personal data from more than 530 million users was stolen by an outside source. Unfortunately, less than three weeks later public outcry has become nonexistent. To consumers worldwide, this is just another data breach in a near constant stream of cyber crimes. According to Security Magazine, more than 36 billion personal records were leaked in 2020 across a staggering 2,935 security breaches worldwide.  

 

The media reports on a new data breach every week. People have become numb to the effects of cyber crime and the lack of meaningful action on the part of multinational corporations to address the growing crisis. 

The first step in combating inaction and the lack of consequence regarding data breaches is realizing that the frequency at which they occur is not acceptable. Rather than becoming numb to the regularity of modern cyber crime, consumers have to hold companies accountable for their data collection and security practices. 

The New Normal?

We're living through an era of significant societal upheaval. The term "new normal" gets tossed around more often than it should. In the context of data security, it's been applied to the ever-increasing frequency of security issues that have seemingly become a daily occurrence. 

In the last year, names like Microsoft, Estee Lauder, Wattpad, and even the supposed secret-sharing network Whisper have all had sensitive customer data compromised by outside sources. Yet each respective instance was little more than a blip on our national radar. 

 

We have to erase that idea from our lexicon. 

 

There is nothing normal about the frequency nor the magnitude of these security failures. Even more startling is the laissez-faire attitude taken by so many major corporations. Take Facebook for example. Reports of their latest data breach aren't even a month old, and yet they've faded from public view. Facebook's official policy has been to shrug and say "Expect more breaches in the future." 

Putting it Into Relatable Terms

The subject of data breaches is a poorly understood topic for many consumers. We've collectively come to a point where the word "data" is meaningless; we are awash in it. The word itself has such a wide range of meanings that it's hard to appreciate the true significance of a security breach. Data can mean your IP address, email address, browser history, telephone number, or address. Because of this, consumers are reluctant to change their own behavior regarding personal data. But the truth is, it's not really up to the consumer to change; corporations that collect data must become good stewards of that data.  

It helps to think of it in terms of Lemon Laws in the automotive industry. Despite labyrinthine rules and regulations surrounding automotive manufacturing, things still do go wrong with vehicles. For example, if you were to drive a brand-new car off the lot and the transmission were to fall out, you wouldn't think "Oh well!" and abandon the vehicle; you'd have an issue with the dealership. Lemon Laws protect the consumer from bad situations like this.

A corporate data breach is exactly like the scenario above. And yet, the public's reaction is very different toward companies that allow security branches to happen.    

Reframe Your Thinking

This is far from an irreconcilable problem. As a culture, we must reframe our thinking if we're to affect real change. Consumers should always be encouraged to engage in safe data sharing practices, but responsibility does not apply to the consumer alone. Businesses must shoulder the majority of the burden, embracing reforms and refining their data retention practices as necessary. The last thing that both parties should allow is for frequent cyber crime to become normalized.   

April 22, 2021

by Mike Higgins

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