Hackers leak 5.5 M email addresses daily: What is the worst that could happen?
November 2021 by Surfshark
The newly released research looks into the most often leaked data points and evaluates the personal consequences of data breaches
A recent survey conducted by cybersecurity company Surfshark shows that 63 email addresses are leaked every second. It adds up to 5.5M email addresses daily – that’s about enough to cover the population of Singapore. Moreover, three-quarters of emails are leaked together with passwords giving hackers full access to online platforms people use daily.
What data is leaked most often?
The recent study shows that 2021 could be a record-breaking year for data compromises as the number of data breaches has already surpassed last year’s total by 17%. Consequently, every month, millions of login details are continuing to be leaked.
Usually, the emails are leaked together with various data points that could help hackers to define a sufficiently accurate profile of the user. Overall, the more users’ data is leaked, the easier it is for scammers to run effective social engineering attacks.
According to Surfshark Alert’s database, on average:
Each internet user lost their email address more than twice from 2004 to today. Additionally, 3 out of 4 emails were leaked with passwords, making it easy for hackers to take over various users’ accounts.
Social media profiles are in danger as well when criminals get a hold of the username instead of the email. The study found that 50 usernames and password hashes were leaked per 100 internet users since 2004. Per 100 internet users, 18 lost their full name, 16 – only first name, 14 – country, last name, date of birth, or gender, and 9 – phone number. Extremely sensitive personal data gets leaked less often. Only 1 out of 100 users have personal health or financial information such as credit rating, income, height, shoe size, or blood type leaked in public databases.
"Personal data is a huge business that hackers try to make use of. The most common driving force behind data breaches is financial gain. However, sometimes criminals intend to damage the reputation of companies, institutions, or individuals. All of this can cause serious reputational, financial, and even psychological damage. Unfortunately, data breaches are becoming more frequent, and it is safe to say that this situation won’t change soon. Therefore, users should be extremely cautious online and take full responsibility for their safety," says Vytautas Kaziukonis, CEO of Surfshark.
What happens with leaked data?
Different leaks might cause different real-life scenarios. For instance, if a user’s email and password are leaked, they can be used in so-called reuse attacks. These occur when hackers get their hands on the password for one compromised account, then try using it to sign in to other accounts. And instead of simply losing access to that one compromised account, the user may find himself dealing with a cascade of issues, with devastating results for privacy and online security.
In the worst-case scenario, hackers can access a user’s personal or business social media account and cause severe financial and reputational damage. Last year in July, in a major Twitter cyberattack, hackers got access to famous people’s accounts, including Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Kanye West, and others. Criminals wrote false Twitter messages under the name of those people and requested donations in the cryptocurrency. This attack damaged victims’ reputations and endangered other Twitter users who might have paid the requested amount of money.
Leaked business email addresses and passwords can also help hackers target the businesses owners themselves. For example, when a business owner receives an invoice for a large purchase, a hacker could delete the original email and instead present a falsified one, including his receiving bank account number. That way, a sum of money will reach a scammer and not the actual seller.
Users can also become targets when their full name and telephone number are leaked. These data points let scammers run various phishing attacks. For example, they can make calls or write text messages with attractive offers that a person can supposedly get by simply filling a registration form controlled by criminals. In that case, even much extensive data loss could happen.
A data breach of sensitive and confidential information might severely impact a person’s life as hackers could tailor their malicious attacks better. For example, suppose a credit rating is leaked. In that case, people with a high credit score can receive phishing attempts that correspond to healthy financial habits – investment opportunities, useful saving accounts or budgeting apps, etc.
In contrast, someone with a low credit score and many credit accounts might receive a fake "pre-approved" offer for a type of credit card that they would not typically qualify for but would like to get. In all of those scenarios, the goal is to make people believe that the offer is legit and safe, and make them share more valuable information with the hackers.
How to protect yourself from data breaches
Cybersecurity experts recommend taking six safety steps:
Use password managers. They help keep passwords secure and usually inform if any password is leaked and needs to be changed. Enable two-factor authentication. This way, it is more difficult to hack users’ social media or other valuable accounts if the email and password are leaked. Use a VPN, antivirus, and firewalls. These security measures keep users’ devices safe from malware and other cyberattacks that might target personal data.
Use disposable virtual credit cards for your online payments. If hackers leak the card’s information, they cannot reach a person’s money in the main financial accounts.
Avoid suspicious links, significantly shortened ones. Usually, those lead to phishing or malware websites where personal data could be at much higher risk.
Use encrypted cloud services instead of regular ones. If hackers leaked the services, they would get encrypted information as a random code that is not useful for hackers and not harmful to the user.