As I was writing my column Thursday, news of a massive data breach at Internet giant Yahoo surfaced. While originally reported to involve some 200 million user accounts, news Thursday raised that number to an astounding 500 million. Yahoo’s data breach is not the largest data breach ever reported, though it is conceivable it may not retain this unenviable statistic for long.

In recent years, many of us have become accustomed, some might even say accepting or numb, to news of yet another data breach. This is obviously not a good trend. News like this should refocus us all on our personal security, especially as it relates to our online activities and accounts.

The Yahoo breach is reported to have exposed usernames, passwords and other personal information for users of their sites. Yahoo is stating at as of now, no payment information was compromised, but the investigation is ongoing. Another troubling thing is that this breach actually occurred in 2014, but news of its breadth is just now being made public, and after Verizon entered in to an agreement to acquire Yahoo.

Most analyst reports I have read suggest Verizon is unlikely to walk away from the acquisition as a result of this. However, it is certainly entertaining revising its purchase price due to this revelation and the related liability looming over Yahoo. If you are a Yahoo stock holder, this is an important issue as the stock suffered after the announcement on Thursday. Verizon stock, however, did not.

In terms of your personal security, if you have a Yahoo account, whether you actively use it or not, you should obviously change your password. Yahoo is advising users to do just this and for good reason. You should review activity on not just your Yahoo account, but any online account, especially ones that may share your Yahoo account or where you may be using the same password. If you see any unusual activity, take steps to change your password and further secure your account with whatever means you have available.

The largest concern with breaches like this, especially on such a commonly used site, is that users may have the same password on other sites. When data like this is stolen, it is often sold on the Dark Web, a sort of underground marketplace for hackers to share secrets and sell stolen information. The worry is that if your password is exposed and used on other sites, you will have a lot to worry about, for obvious reasons.

This is why you hear IT people like me always harp on the fact that you should have a unique password for each login and you should change your passwords regularly. They should be complex, not simple words or numbers alone. Most people don’t do this and this is exactly what hackers rely on. If we did, hackers would not have such success in their wayward activities.

To manage your passwords more securely, I recommend you use a password manager. Products like Dashlane, LastPass and RoboForm all provide relatively intuitive ways for you to create and save unique passwords for each online site you need to log in to. Your passwords are encrypted and easily managed and changed. If you are not using a password manager, I strongly encourage you to. There are free versions available, but the paid versions, which usually are no more than$40 to $50 a year are a smart and in my opinion, necessary investment. If you don’t want to be vulnerable to hackers, this is one of the simplest steps you can take to protect yourself.

All of this said, as is the case with the Yahoo breach, it is believed that this was the work of a state sponsored hacker. The fact is that if a country puts its resources behind a hacker, it is going to be very difficult for individuals and companies to protect themselves. If you become a target, it is likely you will be breached. Proactively monitoring your accounts and looking for unusual activity is a necessary step in today’s world. Businesses of all sizes employ resources and deploy tools to watch the traffic coming and going from their computer networks for this very reason. It’s a necessity of our modern world. Just because you may be one person or a small business, don’t allow yourself to think it can’t happen to you. If it can happen to Yahoo, it can happen to anyone.

MJ Shoer is chief technology officer of Internet & Telephone, LLC, a provider of First Class Service for customer’s voice and data needs, with offices in Boston and Methuen, Massachusetts, and Portsmouth. He maintains a blog about business IT issues at and may be reached at