Recent data breaches: The biggest privacy fails of the 2010s
Guy Hall • November 10, 2020if( has_post_thumbnail( $post_id ) ): ?>
Recent data breaches have cost people their privacy and companies millions of dollars
People these days, ourselves included, entrust companies with a vast amount of personal data. It’s one of the sacrifices that we have to make to allow ourselves to benefit from the many conveniences of modern life. There have, however, been more than a few, very serious, recent data breaches.
In this article, we’re going to be looking at some of the biggest data breaches of the last 10 years. We should preface this by saying that these aren’t going to be the biggest recent data breaches based purely on the number of people affected, or the amount of money they cost their respective companies.
Instead, we’ll be looking at the privacy failures that grabbed headlines, changed companies’ futures and helped shape the way that we think about data and privacy today.
5. Ashely Madison (2015)
Back in 2015, the Ashely Madison data breach captivated the attention of media outlets around the world. In part, obviously, this was due to the fact that a massive data breach had occurred but this event drew so much attention due to the salacious nature of the story.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ashley Madison, it’s a Canadian online dating service. With a catch.
Ashley Madison is targeted specifically at people who are married or in relationships, and looking to cheat on their partner. In fact, the company’s slogan is “Life is short. Have an affair.”
By now you can probably see why we see this as one of the biggest recent data breaches. If there’s one thing you really don’t want to be associated with, as someone in a committed relationship, it’s a service specifically tailored to help you cheat on your significant other.
So, in July of 2015, when a hacking group called Impact Team claimed to have accessed over 300 GB of company and customer data, the eyes of the media settled on Ashley Madison.
The hackers threatened to release the stolen information unless Ashley Madison and its sister site, Established Men, were shut down immediately by Avid Life Media (ALM), the company that owned them both.
ALM refused to comply with Impact Team’s demands and the result was catastrophic.
The hackers released over 60GB of data, including the names of 30 million people who had used Ashley Madison. In the following days and weeks, resignations, divorces and, tragically, suicides were all linked to this data leak.
This just goes to show that although data breaches may appear soemwhat innocuous to someone on the outside looking in, these privacy failures have very real, and very serious consequences.
While this leak is actually the smallest of the recent data breaches discussed on this list, in terms of the number of people affected, its outcome was the most devastating.
4. Target (2013)
Target is one of the largest retailers in America. This, obviously, has made them a prime target for hackers wanting to exploit their systems and gain access to people’s private data.
In 2013, that’s exactly what happened. Target and its customers were the… target of one of the largest recent data breaches on record.
Cyber attackers were able to access Target’s gateway server through credentials stolen from a third-party vendor. They were then able to access the information of millions of Target customers.
To be more accurate, they were able to steal the data, including payment information like credit card numbers and credit card verification codes, of over 70 million customers. This is what makes this one of the biggest data breaches in our eyes.
Not only were millions of people affected, but the information that was stolen was particularly valuable.
While we can only speculate about the long term effects of this breach for the Target customers who had their information stolen, we do know that the breach cost Target big.
In fact, subsequently, Target announced that the breach cost them $162 million.
3. Equifax (2017)
If you’ve only heard of one of the privacy breaches on this list, chances are it’s the Equifax breach of 2017.
Not because it’s the biggest breach, or the most compelling story, but simply because the ripples caused by the breach were still being felt in 2020.
Back in July of 2017, the information of around 150 million Equifax customers was accessed by cybercriminals. That’s roughly 45% of the US population. The data that was accessed included names, social security numbers, addresses and drivers licenses numbers.
None of this is data you want in the hands of the wrong person.
The reason that we were still hearing about the breach in 2020 was because the company agreed a settlement with the FTC, including $425 million to go toward people affected by the breach. The deadline for this to be claimed was in January 2020.
The bad news for Equifax was that this wasn’t the only cost of the breach. In fact, the combination of legal fees, an overhaul of their data security technologies and various other fees are estimated to have cost the company around $1.4 billion.
2. Uber (2016)
The Uber data breach of 2016 is one of the biggest and most scandalous recent data breaches for one key reason: they tried to cover it up.
This breach has all the tropes of the other privacy failures on this list. The data of millions of people was stolen, over 57 million to be precise, and it ended up costing the company a whole heap of cash.
But, as we’ve mentioned, where this event differs is that the Uber employees involved were not transparent with the public.
In late 2016, data was stolen from a third-party cloud-based service, where Uber was storing data. This data included the name, emails and phone numbers of riders and drivers alike.
Instead of reporting the breach, as is legally required, members of Uber’s staff decided to try and quietly pay off the hackers instead, to the tune of $100,000.
It wasn’t until November of 2017 that Uber, under a new CEO, publicly acknowledged the hack.
The settlement that followed ended up costing Uber around $148 million and the trust of many customers.
1. Yahoo (2013-2014)
We know we said that we weren’t basing our list of recent data breaches off the size alone, but the Yahoo data breach was too large not to top our list.
This hack makes all the other breaches on our list look tiny by comparison.
In fact, back in 2013, data was stolen that related to every single Yahoo account. That’s a total of 3 billion accounts.
Luckily, no financial information was stolen. The cyber criminals, however, were able to make off with names, emails, passwords and the answers to security questions. All of this information is very valuable to hackers looking to access other accounts, so who knows how widespread the effects of this breach were.
Not only did Yahoo have to fork out $117 million towards a class action settlement, but it also affected its deal with Verizon that was in the midst of acquiring Yahoo when the breach was disclosed.
In fact, the breach nearly derailed the deal entirely but in the end $350 million was eventually cut from Verizon’s original offer.
Enough about fails, let’s talk about wins
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