Huge increase in trade in stolen online data

There has been a huge increase in the online trading of people’s personal data as criminals step up their cyber-crime campaigns.

More than 110 million pieces of data were sold during the first 10 months of the year, according to credit-reference business Experian, which is a 40% increase on 2013.

The vast majority of this information consists of consumers’ usernames and passwords, but other data in the hands of crooks includes credit-card numbers and expiry dates.

Experian found that people are becoming more web-savvy and are cutting down on the opportunities they present to hackers, with the number of online accounts per person falling by more than 25% over the past two years. But there remains the problem of lax password security, with one person in every 20 using the same log-in details for every online account, and 10% of us never changing our passwords at all.

“Password information, not payment details, is one of the most valuable individual items of information for a fraudster,” said Peter Turner, of Experian Consumer Services.

“When criminals get hold of password information, either through directly capturing users’ data or buying it from another criminal, they will typically try popular sites to see if they can gain access to the user’s accounts – email accounts in particular.

“Once access to your email account is gained, fraudsters can lock you out, access your address book and any personal information you’ve sent or received, log in to other accounts, and use it to reset any passwords you may have – pushing you out of your own online life and stealing your identity.”

Putting a little bit of effort into keeping your passwords up-to-date and secure can drastically cut the chances of your data being accessed illegally.