It may range from a few cents to hundreds of dollars, but your loss of reputation and sanity will be incalculable!

With offline and digital strands of our lives now completely intertwined, every action we take on the internet can directly influence the physical realm.

The greatest impact comes from online communication and the sharing of personal information, because user’s personal details may be used against them later on.

Two major consequences of willingly- and unwillingly- shared personal data in public have arisen over the years:

  1. Doxxing: the public de-anonymization people for shaming, bullying and other reasons.
  2. Dark web sales of personal data.

Researchers at cybersecurity firm Kaspersky recently delved into finding out how much a person’s security may cost online. It turns out that accessing sensitive data such as medical records or identification information can cost less than a cup of coffee.

The price range in USD for different types of data identified as a result of analysis of offers on the dark market forums
The price range in USD for different types of data identified as a result of analysis of offers on the dark market forums.

How much is your personal data?

While people’s awareness of privacy issues is rising, most of us still only have a general understanding of why it matters. Reports indicate that a roughly a third of millennials think that they are too boring to be the victim of cybercrime. According to Kaspersky, this is simply not the case. For instance, doxxing, which, in a way, is a method of cyberbullying, can affect any user who is vocal online or does not conform to subjective standards of other users.

Doxxing occurs when a person shares private information about another person without their consent to embarrass, hurt or otherwise put the target in danger. Users typically do not expect personal information to leak out into the public domain, and even if it does, do not anticipate what harm that might do. But as actual incidents show, with especially-determined abusers or malicious users, doxxing may potentially turn as far as hacking into the target’s accounts, a service that is offered on the dark markets nowadays.

To get a better understanding of how users’ personal information can be used in the wrong hands, Kaspersky researchers analyzed active offers on 10 international darknet forums and marketplaces. Access to personal data can start from as low as 50 cents (USD) for an ID, depending on the depth and breadth of the data offered. Some personal information remains as well=demanded as it was almost a decade ago: credit card data, banking and e-payment service access—with their respective prices unchanged in recent years.

The ‘cybergoods game’

New types of saleable data have also emerged, including personal medical records and selfies with personal identification documents, which can cost up to US$40.

The growth in the number of photos with documents in hand and schemes using them also reflects a trend in the ‘cybergoods game’. Abuse of this data potentially results in quite significant consequences, such as taking victims’ names or services on the basis of their identity.

Consequences of abuse of other types of personal data are also significant. Data sold on the dark market can be used for extortion, execution of scams and phishing schemes, and direct theft of money. Certain types of data, such as access to personal accounts or password databases, can be abused not just for financial gain, but also for reputational harm and other types of social damage, including doxxing.

Said Dmitry Galov, a security researcher at Kaspersky: “As we see by the increasing number of data leaks, this leads to more risks for users. However, there are positive developments too. Many organizations are taking extra steps to secure their users’ data. Social media platforms have made especially significant progress in this regard as it is much harder now to steal an account of a specific user. That said, I believe our research highlights how important it is to be aware that your data is in fact in demand and can be used for malicious purposes even if you do not especially have lots of money, do not voice controversial opinions and are generally not very active online.”

Another Kaspersky researcher, Vladislav Tushkanov, noted that the internet has given us an opportunity to express our individualities and share our stories, and that is fantastic. “Yet, one has to understand that being and expressing yourself online is not exactly a private endeavor. It is more like shouting on a crowded street and you never know who might come your way, disagree with you and how they might react. With this, comes risks.”

This does not mean that we should all delete and close our social media accounts, of course. It is all about understanding potential consequences and risks and being prepared for them, said Tushkanov. “The best course of action when it comes to your data is this: know what they know, remove what you can and take control of what information about you goes online. It is that simple, but does require effort.”

For readers new to CybersecAsia, a whole host of privacy-protection best practices, trends and tips are always available and updated here.