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Identity Theft: The Risky Side of Big Data

Is this major con of big data collection enough to outweigh all the pros?

· Big Data Zone

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2015 was a big year for high profile data breaches. You may have heard about the plethora of private information that was hacked or leaked from major entities such as the Donald Trump hotel chain, Ashley Madison, T-Mobile, Scottrade, and even the IRS.

The hacks and breaches were devastating for many people’s personal identities and (in some cases) personal lives. To illustrate the scope, the US health insurance firm Anthem lost records for over 80 million customers and 19 million rejected customers, enough information to steal identities. Reports estimated that one-third of Americans were affected by this breach alone.

It’s the high profile data breaches like these that have many of us wondering if the benefits of big data storage outweigh the risks when so many credible businesses are unable to keep the data under lock and key.

And what many don’t realize is that big data breaches are actually a lot more common than what we hear about in the news media.

According to Experian’s third annual Data Breach Industry Forecast, 91% of all healthcare organizations have had at least one data breach in the last two years. And it’s easy to see why: black market traders consider medical records to be 10 times more valuable than credit card numbers.

Even one of the most technologically advanced entities out there -- the US federal government -- had 61,000 cyber-security breaches in 2014 alone.

The fact is that no matter what securities are in place today, big data organizations are constantly at risk. For cybercriminals, big data is a highly profitable commodity, and one breach is enough to garner millions of identities or other sensitive information.

At this time, there are only so many ways for organizations to store and manage big data, meaning that the number of ways to protect it are also finite. This makes it easy for cybercriminals to recycle the same hacking techniques throughout the cyber world.

Something that makes big data breaches such a threat to individuals (as opposed to the organizations in charge of the data), is that the sources of these breaches are often considered to be safe. People try to protect themselves from giving up their credit card or social security number to shady-looking businesses, but usually their healthcare provider doesn’t fall into that category.

And yet much of the news about big data breaches continues to focus on the expenses of the organization involved. The cost to consumers is getting higher and higher every year. According to the FTC’s latest report, identity theft complaints have increased by 47 percent.

In response to this increase, enterprises have two options: (1) ignore the breaches and suffer in trust and reputation, or (2) implement costly regulations in an attempt to mitigate future breaches. Neither sound particularly appealing, but it’s clear that something has to be done.

In a statement to the press, National Consumers League executive director Sally Greenberg said, "Nearly half a million complaints send a clear message: more needs to be done to protect consumers from identity fraud.”

Javelin Strategy and Research reports that almost 1 in 3 victims of data breaches will also experience identity fraud as a result. And in most cases — the IRS a prime example — the decision whether or not to participate in organizational big data isn’t theirs. All people can do is take whatever steps they can to protect themselves by spotting the signs of identity fraud early on.

There are a lot of benefits of big data for individuals and organizations alike. Big data can make our lives simpler, and even help develop new methods to solve social and economic problems based on the insights they offer.

While the possibilities that big data offers have never been greater, so are the risks. It’s time for people, organizations using big data and governments to start having a serious discussion about whether or not we’ll ever be able to develop identity theft protection that can really save us from these risks.

If the answer is no, then it might mean the cons of big data outweigh the pros. Ultimately, it will be up to the policymakers to decide if protecting our identities from data breaches will be worth giving up on a technology that has already done so much to improve businesses and even individual lives around the world.

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big data,security

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