A recent study on cybersecurity statistics revealed that data breaches exposed 36 billion records in the first half of 2020 alone. If we stop and think about that for a second, it is truly staggering. Users are currently the most vulnerable they have ever been, with the global pandemic exacerbating the risks of fraud as people are forced to increasingly operate online. With the migration of services online has come an increased responsibility to manage the way data is stored. 

Traditionally, different sectors have used centralized paper or spreadsheets on internal computers to house information and data sets. However, as we have seen, increasingly sophisticated technology has led to a higher risk of threats to private information, especially when housed on centralized systems. Moving forward, it is essential that businesses and individuals invest in decentralized solutions to store and manage data. On a macro scale, end-to-end technology run on blockchain enables private information to be shared securely, while users remain in full control of their data. From an individual perspective, investment in decentralized digital identity solutions can help users take back control of how and when their data is shared, especially when the current systems are not taking adequate precautions to protect their privacy. 


The risks of centralized data

Despite unprecedented developments in technology over the past 30 years, many of the systems that underpin the way we share and manage data are frighteningly outdated. Within the healthcare sphere, it is still common practice for hospitals to store patient data on centralized systems. This means that large portions of sensitive patient information are too often stored on computers and spreadsheets with limited security.

Recent events within Ireland showcased the inherent risks of housing data like this, as hackers infiltrated the Irish Health Service Executive’s (HSE) centralized systems and stole significant quantities of patients’ personal information. Screenshots and files of patient information were then posted online in a bid to extract a ransom from the government. Reflecting the significant dangers of ineffective data management, the national healthcare service was forced to suspend the majority of its IT systems, causing significant delays and issues for millions of patients at a time when the country was trying to curb its Covid-19 cases. The issue has remained high on the political agenda, with the fallout still being felt by patients, healthcare professionals and the government more than a month later. 

From a security point of view, the implications of this breach were huge. Thousands of people reported receiving scam texts and emails in the weeks after, suggesting that their information had been shared or sold online. Indeed, sensitive data is a highly valuable resource and can be used to blackmail and discriminate when placed in the wrong hands. On a more global scale, the housing of personal information on centralized social media platforms has led to devastating data breaches over the years. 

Most recently, tech giant Facebook exposed the private emails and numbers of 533 million users by making changes to its security systems. Since then, there has been a proliferation in scam calls and texts to people across the world, as well as reports of identity theft. In this age, where the fabric of our civilization is underpinned by technology and online interactions, it is more important than ever that companies and individuals work to ensure their private information remains secure and private. 

Without the correct protections in place, centralized systems become dangerous houses of sensitive information. Reflecting this, a study by the National Association of Information Destruction found that 40% of resold electronic devices contain personally identifiable information including usernames, passwords and credit card information.

As it stands, consumers have limited knowledge of the huge risks inherent in inputting personal data without any oversight of where it is stored or who can access it. Elsewhere, a study by the Pew Research Center found that 81% of participants said that the potential risks they face because of data collection on the internet outweigh the benefits. Despite this, users still have to provide sensitive personal information to websites which then house their information on ineffective centralized systems that are highly susceptible to breaches. 

How decentralization can protect data privacy

As people increasingly conduct business, socialize, and communicate through the internet, greater checks must be in place to ensure that their privacy is protected and that they control what information they share online. Going forward, a move to decentralized identity solutions is essential to ensure data privacy and security. By facilitating end-to-end technology run on blockchain, decentralized solutions enable private information to be shared securely, while users remain in full control of their data. In contrast to centralized solutions, decentralized systems ensure private data remains immutable and secure and is only able to be shared when outlined users consent to provide information. 

Moving forward, any system that is required to store significant swathes of data, whether that’s in healthcare, finance, or the media, must invest in this technology. But it must work both ways and it is also important that individuals take personal responsibility for protecting their own sensitive data. By investing in digital identity solutions, users can take back control of how and when their data is shared, limiting the capacity of hackers and large corporations to collect information that is not authorized. There are many applications that allow users to securely manage their digital identity by storing it on a platform or mobile with a private key that grants access to the verified user only. 

With the proliferation of the online world and the internet economy, privacy and effective data storage have become all the more important. Current centralized systems cannot protect user information and ensure privacy and data security. To remedy our current vulnerability, it is essential that businesses and individuals invest in decentralized solutions in order to ensure that their most personal information is protected. Decentralized data platforms and digital identity solutions are essential in the fight to protect user data and must be leveraged in order to create a more safe and sustainable data driven ecosystem.