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Data Breaches, Online Threats to Children Continue to Rise Amid the Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic

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the staff of the Ridgewood blog

Trenton NJ, as the number ­of data breaches and threats from online child predators continues to rise amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck today urged New Jerseyans to make cybersecurity a priority in their daily lives.

“The COVID-19 pandemic made us all more dependent on the internet and cyber criminals are taking full advantage of that,” said Acting Attorney General Bruck. “A careless mistake could be their next opportunity. Whether you’re logging in from home, at school, or in the office, I ask all residents to make cybersecurity a priority to avoid putting yourself and others at risk.”

As part of October’s National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, Acting Attorney General Bruck released figures from the New Jersey State Police Cyber Crime Unit showing that data breaches in 2021 are on track to surpass those seen during the height of the pandemic, when a prolonged statewide lockdown gave cybercriminals a unique window of opportunity to prey on New Jerseyans using the internet for work, school, and socializing.

To date this year, 1,359 data breaches have been reported to NJSP– just shy of the 1,385 breaches reported in 2020 – with two months yet to go in the year.

The 2020 data breaches – which reflected a 40 percent increase from the prior year – affected financial, medical, and retail industries, among others. The breaches exposed not only proprietary data belonging to the companies themselves but also the personal data of their clients, patients, and customers.

Finance and insurance sectors were hit the hardest, with a total of 318 breach reports in 2020, while breaches reported by investment banking firm Morgan Stanley, online retailer Zoetop Business Co. Ltd., and the dating site Zoosk had the biggest impact on New Jerseyeans, affecting more than a million accounts in total.

Collectively, the data breaches reported in 2020 affected at least 1.9 million accounts held by New Jersey residents, up slightly from the 1.8 million affected by breaches in 2019.

Entities that collect and store personal information of New Jersey residents are required by law to disclose a breach of security to the New Jersey State Police. While breaches affecting thousands of accounts are headline news, 2020 saw a rise in reports of data breaches affecting far fewer consumers, including several breaches affecting only a single account.

“The uptick in reporting of smaller data breaches is encouraging because it tells us that companies are becoming more aware of New Jersey’s privacy laws and their obligation to report any breach that affect our residents, regardless of the number of people impacted,” said Sean P. Neafsey, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “New Jersey vigorously enforces those reporting laws, as well as the laws requiring companies to protect consumer privacy by safeguarding the data they store online.”

Protecting children from internet predators is also critical, especially in light of the spike in reports of online threats to children during the pandemic.

According to statistics from the New Jersey State Police’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) – which fields and investigates reports of child luring, sextortion, and other types of child exploitation – reporting increased by nearly 50 percent in 2020, when mandatory school closings required students as young as kindergarten to log onto the internet for remote learning.

So far this year, ICAC has received 6,062 reports of online threats to children – just short of the 6,130 received in 2020 – with still two months to go.

“Technology is constantly evolving and so are the ways criminals try to take advantage of it. Cyber predators continue to capitalize on our reliance on the internet by targeting unsuspecting online consumers, businesses, and our children,” said Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “Stopping online criminals in their tracks and ensuring the safety of our children is not difficult if we practice responsible online habits. We will do our part by continuing our cybersecurity operations, but we ask that everyone do their part by remaining vigilant.”

“Making parents aware of the dangers their children face online is a key strategy in the work we do to protect kids from online predators,” said Lyndsay V. Ruotolo, Director of the Division of Criminal Justice. “National Cybersecurity Awareness Month provides us an excellent opportunity to remind parents of the need to carefully monitor online activity for children and teens, especially those spending increased time online during the pandemic.”

For tips and information on how to keep kids and teens safe from online predators, visit the New Jersey State Police ICAC webpage at https://www.njsp.org/division/investigations/internet-crimes-against-children.shtml.

For tips and information on how protect yourself and your private data from hackers and financial predators, visit the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Office of Consumer Protection’s Cyber Fraud Unit webpage at https://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/ocp/Pages/cyberfraud.aspx.

For more information on staying safe online during the pandemic, visit the New Jersey Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Cell’s COVID-19 Cybersecurity Resources webpage at https://www.cyber.nj.gov/threat-center/covid-19-cybersecurity-resources/ .

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