Yahoo Inc. recently reported that in 2014 at least 500 million of its user accounts had been hacked. It’s just the latest in a long line of large-scale data breaches.

Every day secure accounts are hacked by technology ninjas. Sometimes they do it for personal gain. Other times, it’s just for fun.

cyber security, online information, security, protection, secure passwordsA 2014 report found that the accounts of roughly half of the nation’s adults had been compromised. That was just in a 12-month period.1

Cyber crooks are hacking into complex security systems. Once in, they collect names, email addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, passwords, credit card data, and bank account information. The likelihood that it will happen to anyone of us is real and terrifying.

Recently, Yahoo Inc. reported that personal information from at least 500 million user accounts was stolen in 2014. Sadly, it’s just the latest in a long line of large-scale data breaches. The growing number of incidents and the scope of the attacks have left many accounts at risk.

It’s important to safeguard your personal information and monitor your account for any unusual activity. If your account security fails, your first job is to shut down the cyber thief as quickly as possible.

How are accounts hacked?

There are a number of ways a hacker can gain access to your account:

  1. Poorly chosen passwords. These are passwords that are obvious, common, or too simple. They’re easy to guess and may include:

Your children’s names

Your wedding anniversary

Your birthday

Your dog’s name

The word “password”

The numbers 1 2 3 4 5

If you use the same password for several accounts, your chance of multiple hacks increases substantially.

  1. Phishing. Cyber criminals craft electronic messages to look like emails from your bank or credit card company. If you enter your username and password, you’ve handed over your credentials to a hacker.
  2. Malware. Click on a website link in a phishing email and you could easily subject your system to malware. This nasty software can:

Gain access to and steal your personal and financial information.

Secretly spy on you.

Sabotage your computer operations.

Sometimes it’s not the result of your actions that exposes your account to hackers. The site may be hacked, or a third-party app or service may experience a security breach.

I've been hacked. Now what do I do to fix it?How do I know if my account has been hacked?

It’s easy to know when your accounts have been hijacked. You’ll see Facebook or Twitter posts you didn’t do. These posts ask your friends to click a link or download an app. When they do, their accounts may be exposed to a virus or hacking. If it’s your email, your contacts will let you know about odd messages they’ve received from you. Of course, you didn’t send those emails. They came from whomever hacked your account.

Once your account has been compromised, there are steps you’ll need to take to begin damage control:

  1. Immediately change your passwords on ALL your accounts.
  2. If your access has been blocked, contact the site’s help center to get back control of your account.
  3. Report the breach to the website provider.
  4. Notify your email contacts that your account has been hacked. Instruct them to immediately delete anything suspicious coming from your email address.
  5. Consider establishing a new email account.
  6. Scan your computer for viruses, spyware or malware using a reputable anti-virus software and follow the steps to remove it.
  7. Change your username and password on any sites using the same credentials as the hacked one.
  8. Closely monitor your credit and financial accounts for unusual activity.

Access to your personal accounts is the gateway to your private life. This can lead to identity theft. Be smart and serious about your approach to security. Be diligent about changing passwords. Monitor your activity. All of these will help you reduce your risk of exposure.

1Source:  2014 Ponemon Institute