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4-fold rise in data theft in a year, 86.6 mn Indian users had personal info stolen, says report

Millions of user accounts — more than four times as many as last year — were compromised in India this year according to a report by Netherlands-based VPN provider Surfshark.

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New Delhi: The number of Indian user accounts impacted by data breaches in 2021 has more than quadrupled from 2020, according to a report.

India had the third-highest number of users compromised after the US and Iran, says the 13 December report on country-wise data breach statistics from Netherlands-based Virtual Private Network (VPN) provider Surfshark. 

The report says that information was stolen from an estimated 86.6 million user accounts in India through “9 big data breaches in 2021, including Domino’s India and Air India cases.”

In 2020, India witnessed fewer user account thefts at 19.2 million.

When a user’s online account is compromised in a data breach — as may occur when companies don’t implement adequate safeguards — personal data, including sensitive information such as credit card numbers and physical addresses, are exposed to malicious hackers. Hackers can then use this information to target the user personally by blackmailing them or trying to trick them into clicking on malware. 

A hacker who has your personal details can sell your data in bulk to companies that will use it to target you with unsolicited commercial communications, including spam calls, SMS, emails, and WhatsApp messages. 

US, Middle East hit hard by data breaches

Surfshark says it collected the data through its product, Surfshark Alert. The company looked at data breaches between November 2020 and November 2021. This was then compared to the corresponding figures from the previous year.

Data analysis shows that the five countries with the largest number of data breaches were the US, Iran, India, Russia, and France. Breaches in these five countries accounted for over half of all the leaks in 2021, Surfshark says.

The 2021 Surfshark data shows that US-based users were hit the worst, with 212.4 million users affected by data breaches compared to 174.4 million in 2020.

Iran showed the biggest jump in breaches, with 156.1 million users affected in 2021 compared to 1.4 million in 2020 — a 10,842 per cent increase.

The report says that “the Middle East particularly stood out among the countries that grew the most breach-wise”.

Sudan had 9.2 million user accounts affected by breaches this year, compared to 214,600 in 2020. The United Arab Emirates had 9 million accounts affected in 2021, up from 1.5 million in 2020. Iraq experienced an increase from 2.5 million to 13.9 million.

“On the bright side, Indonesia has seen the best year-over-year improvement in the number of breached users. The country has seen a dramatic 95 per cent drop in breached citizens (from 84.7 million in 2020 to 4.4 million in 2021),” the report adds.

Globally, however, more breaches have been observed this year as the first 11 months of 2021 saw 952.8 million accounts breached, compared to 921.8 million breaches over the same period in 2020. 

The report says that some of the biggest breaches in 2021 included those linked to Facebook, audio social media platform Clubhouse, Iranian messaging app Raychat, and COMB — this stands for ‘Compilation of Many Breaches’ and is a large database of personal information gathered from many breaches, posted on a hacking forum in February.

Surfshark adds that all these data breaches mean that “nearly 1 billion email accounts have been exposed” in each of the years 2020 and 2021. “That’s 1 in 5 internet users each year that get affected by data breaches.”

(Edited by Rohan Manoj)

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