Coronavirus Has Increased Our Online Data Exposure By 50%

By Gal Ringel, CEO and co-founder at Mine.

It feels like we’re all in a long episode of Black Mirror. The global health crisis created by the COVID-19 outbreak has many difficult consequences that have affected many aspects of our lives. In addition to alarming health concerns and a devastating number of people who suffer  from the virus, the global economy has taken a hit as well. Retailers have been forced to rethink supply chains which up until now relied on China, the travel industry has crashed, businesses and individuals are preparing themselves for a possible recession following stock market plunges and companies discover a new manpower challenge every day due to workers’ possible exposure to the virus.

This new era brings many consumer behaviour and habit changes and as the whole market is re-calibrating, it had seen the virus spread to other aspects of our lives and our online data. The need for isolation has brought a new dependency on technology tools, which may minimise our risk of COVID-19 exposure, but at the same time can affect our level of exposure to certain online threats. For businesses and individuals looking to protect their personal information during this crisis, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind.


Global Transition to 100% Online Life

Individuals worldwide who spend more (or all) of their time at home due to quarantine instructions or their personal choice are forced to change 100% of their day to day needs. They order online instead of leaving home, prepare their emergency stock by boosting their online shopping activity, and are therefore more exposed to the risk of their data being collected and used by corporations and hackers alike.

Since the answer to data security is never to just ‘go off grid,’ we must remember what is important to us and make sure that the safe boundaries we strive for remain the goal after the global emergency is over. At the same time, we must embrace precautions to protect not only our health but also our information and think twice before sharing personal data with unknown sources.

So, where do we all leave our personal or sensitive data since the Coronavirus outbreak started? Do we really leave much more of our data behind since it all started? What can we do about it? (According to Mine’s insight, based on aggregated data of tens of thousands of users)

The insights are focused on six countries: The US, UK, Italy, Germany and Israel. If we look at the general average, we can see a clear spike of more than 50% in new online sign-ups and the data we leave behind since the COVID-19 started. Germany had the smallest bump with 36% while in France soar with 66% and the US is in second place with 60%.

When looking at specific industries that were affected the most, for good and bad, interesting insights emerge:

The industry which looks to be the hardest hit is the travel industry, which was almost shutdown completely. Mine identified an average decline of 7% in sign-ups to new services in that sector. Why haven’t we seen a much bigger decline though?

Most users signed up to travel sites and platforms already have an active account in the most popular services and therefore the decline is mostly in unpopular services and offer deals, special prices, etc. Germany and Israel had the biggest plunge with 11% and 12% in new sign-ups to services while the US saw only 2%, since people kept on flying. Companies in this industry usually collect personal and sensitive user data such as passport numbers, home addresses, dates of birth, financial information and more. Hence, now is the perfect time to delete all those unused accounts that have no loyalty points attached or a special status and leave only the accounts that you are truly using.

Another industry that was not popular at all in terms of new signups and active accounts is Health and Government which suddenly saw a bump of 8.4% on average. Prior to the crisis, on the day to day, most of the people don’t have any reason to consume content or use their services but since the outbreak started, millions of people worldwide have needed to receive health updates, getting all kinds of government aid, for example, signing up to the UK’s furlough scheme.

The problem with such companies is that they keep highly sensitive information about our health and potentially financial and employment status, therefore it is crucial to remember to delete those accounts after the crisis is over, if they are not required anymore.

Food Deliveries and e-Commerce

The food delivery and eCommerce industry soared however, with 15% in new signups, on average. The reason is obvious, as most of us are in home lockdown to ease the virus’ spread and therefore we have been online ordering anything and everything we can online. It was surprising to see that the US, which has already offered almost everything online for many years, represent the biggest increase with 28% while Germany and Italy are last with 8% and 9%.

It is important to note, that since the crisis began, this industry in particular, as well as others, has become a new target for hackers and cybercrimes to obtain financial information, online purchasing preferences and location data. Therefore, these increases in our risk to digital threats has increased dramatically and so it is important to delete all unused accounts immediately. Remember that you can always sign-up again should you once again require the services of the companies in question.

The last industry which has enjoyed a really nice growth curve of 17.6% (on average) is the Media and Entertainment sector. Unsurprisingly, since we all need to entertain ourselves and our kids with more screen time and fresh content, this industry has continued to thrive.

Hackers and Cybercriminals Changing Their Priorities

The massive effect on our digital footprint and the massive growth of our personal data exposure since Covid-19 started is now clear. But, the most important new insight is a clear change in consumer behaviour and habits worldwide. Some industries have soared whilst others have plunged, indicating just how far our priorities as consumers are changing.

These rapid changes have driven hackers and cyber criminals to adapt as well and they have changed their focuses accordingly. Since the crisis started the amount of data breaches, privacy scandals, phishing attacks and social hacking are on the rise. Mine detected 3 data breaches on average for each of its users since the crisis started. In the majority of the cases personal financial information was also stolen.

Lastly, we’ve checked what are the most popular services in those countries in terms of new sign-ups to try to set a picture of what could be hackers’ next targets:

  • In first place globally and not surprising at all, we can see Zoom. According to company reports, they saw a massive growth in their user-base from 10M to 200M, but have also had their own privacy and security issues, which means that they have become a target for cyber criminals. It will be interesting to see how many consumers will still use Zoom after the crisis but in any case, if you are not, don’t forget to delete it
  • In second and third place globally, we have Netflix and Spotify. We’ve talked about the desire to keep a clear mind and maintain sanity during this lockdown. Both companies were already marked as targets last year, and so it is important to see what will happen later this year. Recently, Netflix became a target of hackers with hundreds of fake domain that aimed to steal financial information from users
  • Another high place is held by Walmart, which have acquired new growth in new sign-ups across the USA

There are many more examples, surprising and not so; but the bottom line is that we all leave much more of our personal and sensitive data over the internet during this crisis such as personal, financial, health, and more. It is important for us to remember to delete those accounts after we are done using them to reduce our digital footprint and data exposure since every day there is a new data breach or privacy scandals and there is no reason why any of us should be part of the next one.