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How Widespread Is the Data Theft Problem?

Given the appeal of this type of data theft to tech-savvy thieves, one would expect it to be somewhat widespread. And it probably is—if we truly knew all the numbers.

The problem with trying to size the data theft issue is twofold. First, many companies do not report data theft to the police or do not publicize such thefts; they’re trying to avoid bad publicity. And even when data theft is reported, the dollar impact of such theft is difficult to ascertain. (Remember, the actual thief benefits only from the sale of the information, not from its eventual use in fraudulent activities.)

That said, some attempts have been made to put this type of crime in perspective. Unfortunately, the numbers aren’t quite in sync.

For example, the Identity Theft Resource Center estimates that more than 79 million data records were compromised in the U.S. during 2007. That’s an increase of 295% over 2006’s 20 million number.

However, a competing organization, Attrition.org, puts the 2007 number at 162 million stolen records worldwide. (That’s worldwide versus U.S.–only, so it’s not strictly apples to apples.) That’s an increase of 230% over Attrition’s 49 million estimate for 2006.

Whichever number is correct, that’s a lot of stolen data. Add to that the immeasurable cost of intellectual property data theft, and you get a sense of the size of the problem—it’s big and it’s getting bigger.

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