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Busted: The 5 Biggest Tech Hacks of 2015

Published on Dec 23, 2015 at 9:06 pm in Tech Trends.

It’s no laughing matter when confidential electronic information is compromised. Businesses and individuals alike must put security measures in place to ensure their identities remain safe in this digital world we live in. Cyber hackers do not discriminate. Many may think that they only hit large corporations with a greater volume of data to steal, but that is a dangerous misconception. In 2014, 31 percent of cyber attacks were against companies with 250 employees or fewer. No matter the size, all companies need to be prepared.

This past year saw its fair share of jaw-dropping and eyebrow-raising technology hacks. Among the biggest targets were federal agencies, financial institutions, healthcare corporations, toy makers and some very shady spouses.

Here is a look at five of the biggest security hacks of 2015:

IRS     1.  IRS
Tax season is always a headache, and the hassle gets even greater when your tax information is stolen. In May 2015 hackers used one of the IRS’ own applications meant to improve the filing experience for the public, “Get Transcript,” to access the past tax returns, financial information and Social Security data of more than 300,000 taxpayers. Unfortunately, the victims of the hacks are not the only ones feeling the pain of the situation. The breach is estimated to have cost taxpayers $50 million in fraudulent claims.

     2.  JPMorgan Chase
What may be most shocking about this breach is its longevity. At three years in the making, it wins the award for the longest-running hack on this year’s list. The scheme began in 2012 and was not foiled until mid-2015. It involved hackers from more than one dozen countries stealing the information of more than 100 million clients. Not only was JPMorgan Chase a victim, the hacks also affected the clients of E*Trade Financial Corp, Scottrade Financial Services and Dow Jones & Co. Four main suspects were indicted this year as the masterminds behind the hacking, but the damage has already been done. U.S. officials allege never have we seen a larger theft of consumer data from a financial institution in our nation’s history.

     3.  Anthem
The year got off to a rough start for U.S.-based health insurance firm Anthem. A hack led to the loss of more than 80 million client records, equating to one in three Americans. On top of that, between eight and 18 million non-clients may have also fallen victim to the hack. Specifically, members of other Blue Cross Blue Shield plans who used their insurance over the past 10 years in a state where Anthem operates. The personal data compromised, like Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses, could ultimately lead to stolen identities — and further trouble for those affected. As of this fall there were still no culprits identified for this case.

     4.  VTech
This hack is especially troubling because it affects one of the most vulnerable populations in the country — our children. The toymaker VTech was hit with a large breach in November that stole the records of more than four million adults and 200,000 children. Varying reports provide different figures of those affected, but one fact is true across the board — when it comes to the safety of our families, even one stolen record is too many. The stolen information included names, emails, passwords, security questions, IP addresses, mailing addresses, photographs, genders and birth dates. This is reportedly the largest known hack ever to target children. Poor password security and other technical issues are the alleged causes of this breach.

Photo: Chief Photographer/MOD [OGL (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/1/)], via Wikimedia Commons

     5.  Ashley Madison
For a company that prides itself on discretion, this hack was anything but hush-hush. Arguably the most notorious of the breaches in 2015, this information leak left 37 million people very red in the face. Hackers invaded the Ashley Madison database and released the identities of members of the site that encourages infidelity. Among those exposed, notable names in politics and pop culture. Embarrassment is not the only outcome of this relationship-rocking scandal. Some feared the leak, if placed in the wrong hands, could lead to blackmail repercussions against the United States, United Kingdom and their allies. Talk about an affair to remember.

There were many tough lessons learned in 2015. As we look ahead to 2016 we can only hope that more companies have the necessary security measures set to better protect themselves and their clients.