You've undoubtedly read about all the cyberattacks hitting corporate America these days, and it is regular people, of course, who suffer the consequences — identity theft, etc.
Indeed, 25 percent of Americans endured information security breaches in the past year, according to a new survey from the American Institute of CPAs
(AICPA) conducted by Harris Poll. That's a whopping jump from 11 percent a year ago.
Of the 1,000 adults surveyed, 20 percent said identity theft has negatively affected their credit score. In addition, 26 percent reported that their credit score prevented them from doing at least one thing in the past year, including obtaining a personal loan, a credit card or a mortgage. Eight percent reported they were prevented from renting an apartment and 5 percent were unable to land a job because of their credit score.
The survey also found that 86 percent of adults reported some concern in businesses' ability to safeguard customers' financial and other personal information.
Moreover, 82 percent said they are shifting their purchasing behavior in the wake of increased cyberattacks, a 13 percentage point increase from a year ago. Fifty-six percent said they are now using more cash and/or checks for purchases, and 40 percent have reduced their online presence — including turning off social media accounts or visiting fewer websites.
"The increase in data breaches affecting personal information has given consumers significant cause to be cautious about their activities, both online and off," said Ernie Almonte, chairman of AICPA's Financial Literacy Commission.
"Data breaches have the potential to seriously affect consumers' finances and wreak havoc on their credit scores. The good news is that we are seeing Americans taking steps to safeguard their information and reduce their susceptibility to these attacks."
The commission recommends several steps we should take, including: "be proactive. Reach out to your bank and credit card companies and ask what safeguards they have available, including fraud alerts and purchase limits."
Meanwhile, the field of cybersecurity creates plenty of investment opportunities, experts say.
"Cybersecurity is criminally underinvested in," Gur Talpaz, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, told CNBC
. "Meanwhile, the threat environment is increasing. The threat plane has gotten so much bigger."
Many employees utilize mobile devices for work that are outside company networks, and many companies deploy outdated security programs. That makes corporations vulnerable, he noted.
As far as cybersecurity companies, "it's becoming a market of haves and have nots," Talpaz said, adding, "There's lots of opportunity for new players, so you want to pick your spots."
One of the stocks he likes is Palo Alto Networks, which makes next-generation firewalls. "The company sells a unique product . . . [and] has strong recurring revenues," he explained.
Gemalto, a Dutch digital security company
, calculates that more than 1,500 data breaches occurred worldwide last year, up 49 percent from 2013. A total of 1 billion data records were compromised in 2014, up 78 percent.
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