Self-Sovereign Identity for more Freedom and Privacy - SelfKey
10 minutes

Data Breaches: Risks and Consequences

It is crucial to understand the risks of data breaches and to try and take steps to prevent them. Some negative effects can last for years, with victims suffering reputational damage, identity theft, and even financial fraud. And, in some cases, the consequences of a cyberattack can be irreversible. However, decentralized solutions are being developed with the aim to protect individuals' privacy and prioritize their online security.
27 Apr 2023
Person sitting in front of a laptop. The laptop was hacked and their data is compromised.
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Have you ever seriously considered the negative impacts of a data breach? Are you aware of the digital safety risks that lurk around the corners of the internet? And, did you know that cyberattacks may produce life-long consequences?

Nowadays, applications and websites have become so common that we consider them an integral part of our daily lives. And, because we have normalized it, individuals blindly share their private information with little thought given to the implications of doing so. 

We rarely ever stop to consider what happens to our personal data once we share it with large technology corporations. And that’s because we live with the illusion that our valuable or sensitive private information is safe. That cyber attacks cannot possibly reach us.

However, some serious privacy violations have occurred in the past several months. And they have exposed the severe effects of sharing personal information without proper caution to safety and privacy. 

Despite data breaches occurring on a daily basis, they aren’t discussed as often as they should be. Individuals who have not experienced such incidents may assume that they are immune to them. But anyone can fall victim at any time, and the consequences of a data breach can be irreversibly harmful.

In this article, SelfKey aims to provide an in-depth analysis of data breaches, recent events, and the potential aftermath for individuals whose personal information is compromised. 

It is highly important to spread awareness about the possible consequences of data breaches. To attempt to prevent them from happening at all. With SelfKey’s decentralized solutions, a safer digital future may await us.

Let us elaborate on these crucial aspects in the paragraphs below.


  • Defining data breaches: Meaning and Overview
  • Factors contributing to data breaches: Why, Who, and for What?
  • Caught Off Guard: When and Where Data Breaches Strike
  • Victims of data breaches: Are you safe?
  • Conclusions

Defining data breaches: Meaning and Overview

A brief, but fundamental introduction

Data breaches are serious security violations where confidential, protected or sensitive data is accessed, stolen or used by an unauthorized person or organization. These devastating incidents are also known as data spills, data leaks, or information disclosures, and they can occur in a variety of ways.

These digital attacks are typically well organized and initiated by malicious players, including organized crime, political activists, and national governments. However, even individuals who accidentally gain unauthorized access to systems with poor security configurations can cause data breaches.

The information that hackers may disclose can range from matters that may compromise national security to information that government officials want to keep hidden. When a person who has access to such information deliberately exposes it, for political reasons, it is usually referred to as a "leak".

The negative effects of a cyber attack: What happens after?

Data breaches can have far-reaching consequences, impacting a variety of information types including, but not limited to:

  • financial data, such as credit card information and bank details.
  • personally identifiable information (PII), such as full name, full address, IDs, birth certificate information, etc.
  • personal health information (PHI), such as full name, home address, or dates related to the health or identity of individuals.
  • trade secrets, and intellectual property. 
  • sensitive or valuable information, like photos or videos.

Unstructured data, such as files, documents, and private information, can also become exposed and vulnerable if proper security measures are not in place to protect them.

These cyberattacks aren’t limited to organizations or powerful institutions, though. Anyone could be a victim. And, worst of all, the compromise or theft of the information listed above can lead to anything from:

  • financial losses
  • identity theft
  • reputational damage
  • legal repercussions

It's important for individuals and organizations to take steps to protect their sensitive information and implement strong security measures to prevent data breaches. 

SelfKey understands the devastating consequences of data breaches and emphasizes the significance of implementing preventive measures. Responding promptly and adequately in case of such incidents is also highly important. 

Recent Data Breaches: The beginning of 2023

The frequency of data breaches has increased in recent years. Alarmingly, the past several months have seen a handful of significant incidents. 

  • One such example is TikTok’s illegal processing of data belonging to 1.4 million children under 13, who were using its platform without parental consent. This breach highlights the importance of proper data management practices, particularly when dealing with children's information.
  • Another example is the cyberattack on Yum! Brands, where attackers stole personal information belonging to some individuals, including names, driver's license numbers, and other ID card numbers. This kind of data is particularly sensitive and can be used to commit identity theft, among other crimes.
  • Finally, the hacking of The Kodi Foundation resulted in the exposure of personal information and private conversations of over 400,000 users. Such incidents can have long-term consequences for the affected individuals, including reputational damage and financial losses. These breaches emphasize the need for better cybersecurity measures and data protection practices across industries.

Factors contributing to data breaches: Why, Who, and for What?

Cyberattacks have become a prevalent threat to our digital lives, and they occur on both personal and larger scales. While most people may assume that only organizations with weak security measures are at risk, individuals are also susceptible to data breaches. 

In fact, personal cyberattacks often happen due to a lack of caution when it comes to protecting oneself online.

Why do data breaches occur?

One of the most common ways individuals make themselves vulnerable to cyberattacks is by using weak or predictable passwords. This makes it easy for hackers to access their accounts and steal sensitive information. Additionally, using the same password on multiple accounts makes it even easier for hackers to gain access to a person's entire online presence.

Lack of proper security measures is another way individuals put themselves at risk. Failing to have anti-malware protection on their devices can allow malware to infiltrate and infect their system. Similarly, exposing personal information publicly online, such as on social media, can provide hackers with the necessary information to carry out attacks.

Clicking on or accessing suspicious links is another way individuals can become victims of cyberattacks. It is worth mentioning that bad players often use phishing emails to trick people into giving up sensitive information. These emails can appear legitimate, so it's important to be cautious and verify the source before clicking on any links or providing personal information.

Who is responsible for data breaches?

Anyone could carry out a cyberattack, if they have the necessary tools, and if that is their intention.

Data breaches are a serious concern for individuals, organizations, and governments alike. These breaches are often the result of bad players with malicious intent. Perpetrators can range from organized crime groups seeking financial gain to political activists looking to disrupt or expose sensitive information. 

In some instances, national governments have conducted data breaches for espionage or other motives. Regardless of the motive, it's important for individuals and organizations to take steps to protect themselves from potential breaches and to respond quickly and effectively if one occurs.

What are the intentions of those who initiate cyberattacks?

Malicious individuals typically have two main intentions: financial gain or causing damage to institutions for various reasons. 

In pursuit of these goals, they may carry out data breaches that can have serious consequences for their victims. These attacks can result in the exposure of personal information and sensitive data, which can lead to identity theft, financial fraud, and other types of harm. 

Sometimes, larger feuds between hackers and their targets can result in victims becoming collateral damage and suffering the consequences of attacks that were not specifically directed at them.

Caught Off Guard: When and Where Data Breaches Strike

Data breaches can happen every second and anywhere, from major technology companies to large financial institutions, and even in our own homes

Public places such as cafes or airports, which offer public Wi-Fi, can also provide opportunities for hackers to access personal data.

Recently, incidents involving Yum!Brands and TikTok have highlighted the vulnerability of powerful institutions to cyber attacks. However, individuals are also at risk in their personal lives. 

At any given moment, scam messages spread by viruses or hackers can target friends and family members. Weak personal security measures, such as predictable passwords and email addresses, can leave individuals vulnerable to attacks. As a result, the malware can spread to the victim’s circle of friends, family, or acquaintances via personal messages or emails.

One common method used by attackers is phishing emails. They appear to be legitimate messages from a trusted source but actually contain malicious links or attachments. Clicking on these links can result in the installation of malware on a device, allowing attackers to gain access to sensitive information. 

Victims of data breaches: Are you safe?

Who do bad players target?

The victims of data breaches can be anyone whose personal data was involved, regardless of age, gender, occupation, or level of power. 

This includes children, women, men, students, teachers, and employees who trust their employers with their personal information. It also includes clients, customers, and patients who share their data with businesses and healthcare providers. 

It's important to recognize that anyone who uses the internet is at risk of being affected by a data breach, regardless of how small or popular they are. Constantly searching for vulnerabilities and ways to exploit them, bad actors can breach even the most seemingly secure systems.

That's why it's essential to take the right security measures, such as using strong passwords, regularly updating software, and being cautious when sharing personal information online. By being proactive about data security, individuals and organizations can help protect themselves and minimize the potential impact of a breach.

How can Data Breaches affect you? 

Individuals can be affected by data breaches in two different ways:

  1. At a large scale, when a centralized system is hacked, which can affect millions of people. 
  2. On a personal level, when an individual's personal online accounts are hacked. In this case, the breach may only affect one person, but it can still have severe consequences, such as financial loss or identity theft. 

In both cases, it's crucial to take steps to protect yourself and your personal information. SelfKey advises using strong passwords, enabling two-factor authentication, and regularly monitoring your financial accounts for suspicious activity.

Large Scale: Attacking Businesses

Large-scale data breaches can have far-reaching consequences that extend beyond the immediate victims. 

While companies, institutions, and organizations are often the primary targets of such attacks, individuals can also suffer the consequences on a personal level. Even if the attack was not personally directed at them, they could still become collateral damage if the company they have trusted their PII with falls victim to a data breach. 

The consequences of this kind of data breach can be severe and long-lasting, for instance:

  • Companies can face financial losses, damage to their reputation, and even legal action.
  • Institutions may lose the trust of their stakeholders and customers, leading to a decline in business. 
  • Organizations may find it difficult to attract and retain talent if they cannot demonstrate that they take data security seriously.

Furthermore, large-scale data breaches can lead to a loss of trust in the digital economy. If people cannot trust that their personal information is secure, they may be less likely to use online services and conduct transactions digitally. This could lead to a decline in e-commerce and other digital industries, negatively impacting the overall economy.

All in all, the consequences of large-scale data breaches are not limited to the immediate victims. Companies, institutions, organizations, and individuals can all suffer the effects of these attacks.

Below, we will examine some of these negative impacts more thoroughly.

Temporary Shut Down

Data breaches can have a significant impact on companies, not only in terms of the immediate costs but also in terms of long-term consequences. When a company experiences a data breach, it may be forced to halt its activity temporarily, which can result in millions of dollars in damages.

According to industry surveys, Gartner concludes that the cost of operational downtime can be around $5,600 per minute, which translates to $300,000 per hour. This can add up quickly, especially if the breach is not resolved promptly. 

In addition to the financial costs, a data breach can also damage a company's reputation and erode the trust of its customers, leading to long-term consequences.

For example, Expeditors International is still dealing with the aftermath of a data breach that occurred in February 2022, which forced it to halt its activity temporarily. The company is likely to experience long-term consequences as a result, including a potential loss of business and damage to its reputation. 

It is therefore crucial for companies to take proactive steps to prevent data breaches from occurring and to have a solid plan in place for responding to them if they do occur.

Financial Loss

Financial losses can arise from two main sources following a cyberattack: 

  • Ransomware
  • Legal actions

Ransomware attacks can result in significant financial losses for organizations, as hackers can demand large sums of money in exchange for unlocking access to their encrypted data. 

The growth of ransomware attacks is a cause for concern, with experts predicting that the total cost of ransomware damages worldwide could reach $265 billion by 2031.

Legal actions can also result in substantial financial losses for organizations. The Equifax data breach in 2017 affected over 145 million people worldwide and has already cost the company more than $700 million in compensation to affected US customers. The breach also affected an estimated 15 million customers in the UK, who have launched their own separate legal action in the high court seeking £100 million in compensation. 

Legal actions can be costly and time-consuming, and the reputational damage caused by a data breach can have long-term consequences for an organization's financial performance.

Reputational Damage

Reputational damage is a major concern for companies that experience large-scale data breaches. Such damage can lead to revenue loss and have long-term impacts on the company. 

When a company's reputation is tarnished due to a history of data breaches, people are less likely to trust the company with their payment information, and they may choose to take their business elsewhere. 

This loss of trust can be difficult to overcome. Therefore, companies must take steps to protect themselves and their customers from data breaches. Additionally, they must try to maintain their reputation and ensure their long-term success.

Loss of Private Data

Sensitive data and intellectual property are two key areas that hackers target in a cyber attack. 

Sensitive data can include, but are not limited to:

  • Personal information belonging to customers, patients, and employees.
  • Private company emails that contain personal health history, home addresses, and payment information. 

When this type of data is breached, it can lead to significant financial losses and reputational damage for the company.

Intellectual property is another target of hackers, particularly designs, strategies, and blueprints. When intellectual property is stolen, the competition can take advantage of the leaked information. And this, in turn, may cause long-term damage to the company's competitive advantage.

Businesses within the manufacturing and construction industries are particularly vulnerable to these types of cyber threats. Therefore, many small businesses believe that they are unlikely to be targeted by hackers, but this is not the case. 

In fact, 60% of all hacks target small businesses because they are often easier to attack. It is therefore crucial for businesses of all sizes to take proactive measures to protect their sensitive data and intellectual property from cyber threats.

Personal Level: Targeting the Individual

Data breaches at a personal level often occur due to a lack of caution when operating in the digital world and inadequate security measures. 

People may accidentally share sensitive information, such as their social security number or credit card details, on unsecured websites. Alternatively, they could fall victim to phishing scams that trick them into revealing their login credentials

Additionally, using weak passwords and not updating software and operating systems can leave personal devices vulnerable to hacking. 

SelfKey’s decentralized solutions are centered around the individual’s privacy and security, with a strong emphasis on individuality. It is highly important for individuals to be vigilant when using digital platforms and take appropriate security measures to protect their personal data from cyber threats. 

Identify Theft

Identity theft is a serious crime that can have devastating consequences for its victims. 

When criminals gain access to a victim's personally identifiable information (PII), such as their full name, Social Security number, and birthday, they can wreak havoc on their financial and personal lives. 

Victims can have their bank accounts emptied, credit histories ruined, and valuable possessions taken away. In some cases, victims have even been wrongly arrested for crimes they did not commit. This is because the criminal may use the victim's identity to commit cybercrimes or other illegal activities, leaving the victim facing legal action and potentially a criminal record.

Notable examples of identity theft

  1. The case of Nicole McCabe, an Australian woman suspected of murder after her passport was compromised and her identity stolen. 
  2. Several victims of identity theft had to struggle with proving they were not responsible for the withdrawal of large amounts of cash from banks, or illegally attempting to obtain loans worth thousands. 
  3. The terrifying story of Andorrie Sachs, whose medical identity was stolen by a pregnant woman who gave birth in Sachs' name and left the baby at the hospital, resulting in a $10,000 hospital bill. 

Local authorities mistakenly reported Sachs as an unfit mother and threatened to take her children away. This could also have lifelong implications for Sachs as the perpetrator had a different blood type, and uncorrected medical records could result in Sachs' death if she ever needed a blood transfusion. A healthcare provider could even prohibit Sachs from reviewing her own medical records as they might not be in her name.

This is one of the many reasons why SelfKey strongly encourages individuals to take proactive steps to protect their personal information, such as:

  • Using strong passwords.
  • Regularly checking their credit report.
  • Being cautious when sharing personal information online. 

By being vigilant and taking appropriate security measures, individuals can reduce their risk of falling victim to identity theft and the devastating consequences that can follow.

Personal Health Information

The theft of personal health information (PHI) is highly valuable on the Dark Web, as it can be worth more than 200 times stolen credit card information. 

This type of identity theft can have serious consequences, including, but not limited to:

  • Obtaining illegal medical treatments or prescription drugs.
  • Altering the victim’s medical history.
  • Using up the victim’s medical benefits. 

Hackers can also sell stolen PHI to other criminals, who can use it for a range of illegal activities

Given these horrifying facts, SelfKey strongly advises individuals to take steps to protect their medical identity, such as:

  • Regularly checking medical records for errors.
  • Checking for signs of fraudulent activity.
  • Ensuring that their healthcare providers have proper security measures in place to protect their PHI.

Financial loss

Once malicious individuals obtain your PII, they could potentially use it to damage your credit score and commit financial fraud

A lowered credit score can make it challenging for the victim to:

  • Obtain a personal loan.
  • Secure a mortgage.
  • Even impact job prospects. 

Additionally, individuals who commit identity fraud can open new bank accounts in your name, drain your existing accounts, and commit check fraud. They can also apply for credit using your information, and engage in a variety of other banking scams. All things considered, it’s important to be vigilant in safeguarding your PII. The long-term financial consequences of a data breach can be severe.

Impersonation on Social Media

Cybercriminals can use your digital identity to carry out various malicious activities that can cause significant harm. Here are only a few terrifying examples:

  • They can use your digital identity to phish for credentials from your friends and family, leading to further attacks. 
  • They can ruin your reputation by posting obscene or profane content online, damaging your personal and professional relationships. 
  • They may look for sensitive photos and videos in your account and use them to extort you, leading to emotional distress and financial loss. 

As horrifying as this may sound, there are ways to prevent this kind of disaster from causing irreparable damage to your digital identity. For instance, SelfKey’s AI-Powered Proof of Individuality methods may be the key to protect individuals against identity theft.

Emotional and Mental impact

A personal data breach can lead to significant mental and emotional distress. The harm caused can take a long time to recover from, depending on the extent of the damage done by the hacker. 

Along with reputational damage, victims may also have to spend a considerable amount of time and money to mitigate the fallout. And, the steps towards recovering from such a cyberattack could be draining in themselves. 

Victims may have to spend endless hours or days:

  • Contacting their bank, lenders, and creditors.
  • Securing all their online accounts.
  • Replacing stolen identification documents.
  • Canceling and replacing bank accounts and credit cards.
  • Dealing with criminal charges made in their name. 

Victims will also need to remove malware and viruses from their devices, while constantly proving their identity and showing that it was stolen. A process which can be emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting in itself. 

Worst of all, if affected individuals fail to repair compromised information or remove malware from their devices, they will risk falling victim to the same attacks over and over again.

The long-lasting consequences of a data breach can be devastating, particularly if your PII or PHI end up on the Dark Web. The information could be in circulation there indefinitely, making you vulnerable to further harm.

SelfKey’s visions for a safer digital future

Recent events have demonstrated the devastating impact that data breaches can have on individuals and organizations. That's why SelfKey is emphasizing the importance of security when it comes to online interactions and digital identities. 

By developing decentralized solutions with Self Sovereign Identity in mind, SelfKey is using the potential of modern technology in its aim to counteract these breaches. AI-powered proof of individuality is one solution that may fight against maliciously used AI, to prevent identity theft. 

It's important to raise awareness about data breaches and their potential consequences. To teach individuals and organizations about how to prevent them or how to respond in case one occurs. 


In this modern, digital world, we have normalized sharing our personal data online. However, this does not mean that our personal information is necessarily safe

In fact, data breaches are becoming more and more common, and the consequences can be severe and irreversible. That's why it's crucial for individuals and organizations to take caution when sharing and storing their personal data.

SelfKey is focused on developing solutions which may prevent data breaches and enable individuals to operate safely in the digital world. At the heart of their approach is a commitment to the idea that privacy is a basic human right that should not be traded for convenience. 

By prioritizing privacy and security in their technology solutions, SelfKey is aiming to help empower individuals to take control of their digital identities and protect their personal information.

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We believe the information is correct as of the date stated, but we cannot guarantee its accuracy or completeness. We reserve the right not to update or modify it in the future. Please verify all information independently.

This communication is for informational purposes only. It is not legal or investment advice or service. We do not intend to offer, solicit, or recommend investment advisory services or buy, sell, or hold digital assets. We do not solicit or offer to buy or sell any financial instrument. 

This document may contain statements regarding future events based on current expectations. However, some risks and uncertainties could cause results to differ. The views expressed here were based on the information that may change if new information becomes available.

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