What was the first online service that you signed up for? Perhaps it was your middle school email address (“soccerloveR1450@hotmail.com” anyone?) or your very first Tumblr or Myspace account. Whatever it was, it’s likely that you haven’t used these accounts in years — but did you ever actually delete the account?
Over the past decade, you’ve likely collected various online accounts that you no longer use. But just because you stop using an account doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist — and your data is likely still floating around on the World Wide Web. These old “zombie” accounts haunt your digital graveyard and are easy pickings for cybercriminals.
The Haunting of Accounts Past
Today, most websites and apps either require or strongly encourage their visitors to create user accounts. Almost always, exchanging an email address for an exclusive offer seems a fair tradeoff. As a result, consumers quickly accumulate accounts, many of which they may not even remember creating.
According to Digital Guardian, 70% of consumers have more than 10 password-protected online accounts, and 30% have too many to keep track of. These accounts are comprised of free trials, stores that you no longer purchase from, one-time accounts that you create to buy something, gaming platforms, and apps that you only used a few times. While they may have once served a purpose, you no longer need them.
The problem with zombie accounts is that they contain credentials at risk of exposure. Say that you sign up for a free week trial of a meal kit delivery service. When creating your account, you include information like your email address, password, phone number, delivery address, and credit card information. Once your trial expires, you decide not to sign up for a membership, but your account information remains online. If the meal kit company is involved in a data breach, your personal data could be leaked and exploited by cybercriminals. And if you happen to reuse the same credentials across multiple accounts, a criminal could use credential stuffing techniques (where they use email and password combinations to hack into online profiles) to break into your other accounts.
How to Gain Control of Your Data
So, how can you keep protect your online data and prevent a zombie account apocalypse? Follow these cybersecurity best practices to help keep your information secure:
Track down and close old accounts
Don’t remember which accounts you made and no longer use? No worries! If you browse with Google Chrome, check under chrome > settings > passwords. This will show all the accounts and passwords you’ve used and saved. Other browsers like Firefox and Safari have similar settings. If you use a password manager, this will also keep a record of your credentials. Once you’ve identified the online accounts you no longer used (or completely forgot you had), close the account for good! This may take some patience, as some websites require multiple steps to close an account. But it will be worth knowing that your information is safer from online exposure.
Make sure all your passwords are strong and unique
Having a strong, unique password for each of your online accounts helps protect them from credential stuffing. By using different passwords for your online accounts, you can take comfort in knowing that the majority of your data is secure if one of your accounts is vulnerable.
Update your credentials when necessary
If you realize a company you buy from fell victim to a data breach, start investigating. A tool like McAfee Identity Protection Service can help you monitor multiple email addresses that allow you to see if you were impacted by a breach. If your credentials were potentially exposed, update them on the company’s website immediately.
Use multifactor authentication
Multifactor authentication is an online safety measure where more than one method of identity verification is needed to access the valuable information that lies within password-protected accounts. This can prevent a criminal from breaking into your online profile by providing an added layer of security.
Invest in protection
McAfee Total Protection will help protect your personal information and privacy and provides identity restoration services and invaluable peace of mind. Ninety-two percent of Canadians are concerned about the protection of their privacy and 37% are extremely concerned, reports the Canadian Centre for Cybersecurity. All it takes is a few changes to your online habits and arming yourself with the right tools to feel secure about your online presence.