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Washington DOL's data was breached. How to protect yourself

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On Friday, the Washington State Department of Licensing announced that a possible data breach may have exposed more than a quarter million people’s personal information to scammers.

How can you protect yourself from a data breach?

If you use the internet, there's a good chance someone already has your data.

"I work in this business and I've been affected by something like 20 [data breaches] myself" says Christopher Budd, director of threat research at Sophos, a cybersecurity company.

For Budd the question isn't if your data is out there, but which of your data is.

When you go online, you're taking risks. It's like walking out the doors of your home. You're never going to be completely safe. You'll drive a car, or ride a bike, or just walk down busy sidewalks. You'll do things that are, at least very slightly, risky.

The thing to do is determine how much risk you're willing to take. You might be OK with driving a car, but that doesn't mean you're going to get into street racing.

That's the same, Budd says, with data.

"In all these cases, what we do is we manage — we manage our risk. We find the point where we get the maximum benefit for the least amount of risk that we're willing to tolerate."

In addition to that, Budd suggests always keeping your technology up to date. Even though it may be a hassle, download that new update your computer's been bugging you about. And make sure you're running security software — it goes a long way towards protecting against malware and other threats.

Also, remember you have a right to say no.

When a website asks you for data you don't think they actually need — like your birthday or phone number — you get to decide if they should have that information.

"And if they refuse to give you the service, make an evaluation," Budd says. "Do I really want this service enough to risk that information? And if not, walk away. Find a better provider that will respect your privacy choices more."

Finally, if your information is stolen during a data breach, and the company that's breached is offering identity theft monitoring, always take it. It's one easy way to lower your risk just a little more.

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