Nearly twenty-million "pieces of personal data" changed hands worldwide in the first six months of this year, more than was traded in all of 2011 according to a new study released by the credit monitoring company Experian. The trend will result in a nearly four-hundred percent increase in stolen data sales over the last two year period.
The findings are part of a unique experiment called "Life in a Box" that sought to look into Internet habits and online security by studying the behavior of U.K. residents, and the findings were released to commemorate National Identity Fraud Prevention Week.
The researchers had a volunteer dubbed "Steve" spend a week at a London storefront with a laptop, having him perform a series of tasks online to measure how his behavior affected the overall security of his personal information such as his name and date of birth. The study also looked at the security of his usernames and passwords, data which account for as much as ninety-percent of all illegally traded personal information on the black market.
The results show that the subject made common mistakes that most Internet users make on a regular basis, mistakes that ultimately result in personal data loss.
"The experiment revealed that although Steve showed himself to be a savvy web user, like many people he made basic security mistakes in his hurry to get things done. During the course of the week, he used the same password across multiple accounts, failed to update his web browser to a newer, more secure version and didn’t check that websites were secure by looking for the padlock icon when making online purchases," Experian explained in a press release.
The study also employed the expertise of a third-party consultant who was asked to track the the dispersal of the stolen data which was traced to multiple locations around the world.
The research revealed a number bad habits that Internet users often engage in, such as failing to log out of websites, failing to check for SSL encryption when making online transactions, opening spam emails, and even occasionally clicking on potentially malicious links.
Experian recommends Internet users exercise some simple precautions to protect their personal data, such as the use of strong passwords for sensitive accounts, avoiding using the same login credentials for multiple sites, and being cautious when clicking on unfamiliar URLs.
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