Ashley Madison saga highlights what you can do in a data breach

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There’s a new chapter today in the Ashley Madison saga.

As you probably now know, Ashley Madison is a popular dating website that hooks up people who want to cheat on their spouse. Now the info of 40 million people who were registered with the site is reportedly available.

That info includes names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, descriptions of what users are looking for and credit card information. It’s led to a lot of water cooler talk about who’s on the list and who is not.

The reality is that here you have a website that had big security in place and serious encryption of info. They promised repeatedly that the info would remain private. But what we’re learning is everything can be breached, no matter what security system is in place.

What does this breach teach us about Internet security?

I’m asked often if there is a magic bullet to protect yourself with the endless parade of hacks and data breaches. Yet the most common form of theft of info you’re likely to experience is that your credit or debit card number is compromised.

When it’s a credit card, the hassle is so close to zero that it’s almost insignificant. I had two cards I used at Target that were compromised and had to be replaced by issuers back when that breach happened. No problem there. (The only hassle I had was when I tried to use one of those original cards for a bill and it was declined.) Same thing in the Home Depot breach that came later. I had two cards breached that time and they were both replaced.

But if it’s a debit card that gets compromised, that’s a big deal. After all these years, the nation’s banks have shamed themselves by failing to properly secure the debit card system. If you card is compromised, it is your money that vanishes from your account. That could cause checks to bounce or bills to go unpaid. Then you have to fight your own bank to get your money back into your account.

Read more: 7 places you should never use a debit card

Now we are in the midst of the cutover to EMV cards. Banks routinely send replacements for credit cards. But not so much for debit cards. They’re taking their sweet time because it’s your money that vanishes if there is a breach, not theirs.

So be very careful and wary using a debit card because the harm can be nasty.

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Of course, there are circumstances involving breaches that go way past ugly. You hear them about with the theft of tax returns. Things like that do have a big inconvenience factor. But much of what goes under the general umbrella of ‘breach’ or ‘hacking’ isn’t something you should lose sleep over.

Read more: Don’t give your Social Security number at these places!

Here are some simple precautions you can take in the future:

  • Be careful any time you register at a site with the info they’re requiring. Don’t fill out anything other than the required fields you absolutely must fill out.
  • When you’re at a doctor’s office, never put your Social Security number on the forms you’re handed.
  • Consider putting a credit freeze in place.
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