The Washington Post

Americans report a big jump in personal data theft


Feel like you've been getting a lot more of those data breach notices in your inbox this year? You're not alone.

A new study by Pew Research found that 18 percent of American adults with Internet access have reported that their personal information was stolen in a data breach. That's up from 11 percent who reported the same last July. And this is serious personal information being taken here -- such as Social Security and credit card numbers and banking information.

The percentage of those reporting a breach of  their e-mail, social media or other online accounts held steady at 21 percent in both years.

The study, which surveyed 1,002 adults, was conducted in January 2014 -- before the general public had any information about the Heartbleed bug, though after the disclosure of major breaches at retailers including Target and Neiman Marcus.  In a report released in February, cybesercurity firm RiskBased Security reported an estimated 822 million records were exposed in 2,164 data breach incidents that took place in 2013.

The jump in breaches seems to have hit hardest among those ages 50 to 64. One-fifth of those users reported having personal information taken, an increase from 11 percent in the previous year.

Adults in this age group tend to take fewer steps to protect their anonymity and avoid being observed online, according to data published in September by Pew's Internet and American Life project. Only 56 percent of Internet users in that age group said, for example, that they cleared their browser cookies or history. And just a quarter of users in the 50-64 age group said that they were taking steps to hide their information from "hackers or criminals,"  compared with 45 percent of those ages 18-29.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.



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