Visualizing The History Of Massive Data Breaches

from the hackers,-accidents-and-more dept

Post sponsored by

The Hartford

Though the ongoing revelations about the NSA have thrust government monitoring into the spotlight, we all know that’s just one of the concerning ways that our data is at risk. For many years, we’ve been tracking the various massive breaches that happen at companies, government agencies and anywhere else sensitive data is stored — no small task considering how frequent such breaches seem to be. A new interactive visualization from Information Is Beautiful puts the history of massive data breaches in perspective, going back nearly 10 years and comparing the scale of different events in terms of both the amount of information stolen and the sensitivity of that information. I’d embed a screenshot of the graphic, but it’s huge and the fun comes from the interactivity, so you should just check out the whole thing.

Way back when AOL carelessly handed out data on hundreds of thousands of search users, this all still felt a little bit newer — the rush to start a class-action lawsuit was, as we noted, something of an overreaction given the nature of what happened. AOL stupidly released a lot of data, but their intentions were good and the data wasn’t actually particularly harmful to individual users. The visualization illustrates it nicely when you watch AOL’s bubble shrink from one of the biggest (when reflecting the number of records released) to one of the smallest (when reflecting the sensitivity of the data).

Of course, the point that dominates all the others is the infamous Heartland Payment Systems breach, which impacted over 100-million users. It was, as we noted at the time, the largest data breach ever, and has yet to be supplanted in that spot. By that time, the class action response to such a breach was basically standard practice, and the company took a huge hit — though it also served as an illustration of how broken the class-action system is: Heartland had to spend $1.5-million to track down people for payouts, which amounted to… $1925. In total. Divided among 11 people. Meanwhile, the lawyers made over $600,000.

When you see it all laid out in one place, it’s easy to see how the frequency of data breaches has only increased, while little has been done to decrease their scale or intensity. Recent breaches like those at Evernote and LivingSocial impacted tens of millions of people, and came close on the heels of Sony’s massive 2011 breach of the PlayStation Network. Overall, it’s not a pretty picture, and serves as a reminder to both companies and consumers that the fight for safe, secure data is far from over (even without considering what the government’s been up to).

This post is sponsored by The Hartford.

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