State officials are urging New Jerseyans to be more vigilant in protecting themselves and their children as the number of online data breaches and threats from online child predators continues to rise amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Cyber criminals had additional opportunities both in 2020 and in 2021 given that both adults and children have spent increased time online, especially with more children participating in school virtually.
“The COVID-19 pandemic made us all more dependent on the internet and cyber criminals are taking full advantage of that,” Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck said in a press statement. “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.”
Online Crimes Against Kids on the Rise
The New Jersey State Police’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force said that reports of child luring, sextortion, and other types of online child exploitation increased by nearly 50% in 2020 when mandatory school closings required students as young as kindergarten to log onto the internet for remote learning.
So far in 2021, the task force has received 6,062 reports of online threats to children, which is just short of the 6,130 received in 2020. but still more time left in the year.
“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.”
Lyndsay V. Ruotolo, director of the Division of Criminal Justice, advised parents to carefully monitor online their children and teens’ online activities, especially those spending increased time online during the pandemic.
“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,” Ruotolo said.
Data Breaches on Track to Rise for 2021
A total of 1,359 data breaches have been reported to the New Jersey State Police for 2021, just shy of the 1,385 breaches reported in 2020, but there are still two months left in 2021.
The 2020 data breaches, which reflected a 40% hike from the prior year, affected financial, medical, and retail industries, among others, according to the acting attorney general’s office. The breaches exposed both proprietary data belonging to the companies and the personal data of their clients, patients, and customers.
Overall, the data breaches reported in 2020 affected at least 1.9 million accounts held by New Jersey residents, up from 1.8 million accounts affected by breaches in 2019.
Finance and insurance sectors were hit the hardest, with a total of 318 breach reports in 2020. 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 Jerseyans, affecting more than a million accounts in total.
One Positive: Smaller Breaches Getting Sunlight
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 gain widespread media coverage, 2020 saw a rise in reports of data breaches affecting far fewer consumers, including several breaches affecting only a single account, the acting AG’s office said.
“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.
Tips for keeping kids and teens safe online are available at: https://www.njsp.org/division/investigations/internet-crimes-against-children.shtml.
Tips are available on how to protect yourself and your private data from hackers and financial predators at:https://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/ocp/Pages/cyberfraud.aspx.
Additional information on staying safe online during the pandemic is at: https://www.cyber.nj.gov/threat-center/covid-19-cybersecurity-resources/ .