Data at Large

A story about cybersecurity threats and creating a safer online existence

How many hours did you spend online today?

Most of us can't go a day without the internet. The digital age has brought a whole new way of living, a much more convenient way of living. But at what cost? Just how safe is the personal information you entrust to companies every time you use an app or a website? Let's find out.

Before heading on to the visualizations, here is a brief summary of what's to come.

The Internet & The Hackers

Internet usage has grown tremendously in the past 2 decades. With it came increasing data online and thus opportunities for hackers. In fact, hackers hack for many reasons and most hackers can freely break in and out of systems which make us more vulnerable to cybersecurity issues.

Cybersecurity Threats

The vulnerability to cybersecurity threats comes from the fact that data we implicitly entrust to different kines of companies and even the government are not completely secure. There are many ways by which our personal data can be lost/stolen/leaked.


When the data is lost to the wrong hands, consequences like identity theft and fraud can occur. These may cause financial and psychological burdens throughout a period of time rather than simply a momentary loss.


The silver lining is that there has been increasing awareness and spending on cybersucrity in recent years. We give specific recommendations/ steps to take should you find yourself in an unfortunate victim of cyber crimes.

Internet has gone viral since 1995

This isn’t news, but you might not realize how drastic the increase in internet activities has been.
Explore the trend by selecting the type of user. Play animation to see how the world changes in action!

Along with the growth of the internet, hackers gained more opportunities

About hackers: A brief history

The term "hacker" was coined in the 1960s at MIT, where extremely skilled and intelligent individuals practiced hardcore programming. Since most people had no idea what hacking was, the term hacker was actually accepted as a positive label slapped onto computer gurus who could push computer systems beyond the defined limits.

During the early 1980s, the term “cyberspace” was coined from a novel called “Neuromancer.” A group called the “414s” was one of the earliest hacker groups to ever get raided by the FBI and charged with 60 computer intrusions.

As time progressed, Hackers found ways to exploit holes in operating systems of local and remote machines, and this exploitation can be used for good and the bad. While majority of hackers do not commit malicious acts against users, hackers do break into systems for a great variety of reasons.

The ones that intentionally retrieve private data may pose real cybersecurity threat to you regardless

Hover over the reasons to see details. And hover over the pie charts to see actual survey questions and responses!

Did you know that a hackers survey revealed...

Cybersecurity threat is real: Companies are being hacked.

With your activeness on the internet and the prevalence of hackers, how often do you think a data breach happen?

The Equifax incident in 2017 impacted over 140 millions of people in the US. You might have heard about the billions of account information stolen from Yahoo revealed in 2016 as well. However, cybersecurity issues come up more often than what you might have imagined, and mostly on large scales. In fact, almost all types of organizations are vulnerable, data can be leaked through various channels, and data as sensitive as your social security number can be stolen.

Visualizations below offer an overall view of the data breach cases 2004-2017. Click on the layers to explore the data and hover over individual bubbles to read more about each incident.

Is there a particular type of method of leak that yields the most data breach incidents? How are the organization types relate to what type of data is lost or if there is any correlation?

A major consequence of cybersecurity threats is Identity Theft Crimes

Every year, people report and complain about their identity theft cases throughout the United States. Unfortunately, the overall number of victims has been risen throughout the time as well. There are states where more people get affected, and states where people are more likely being affected.

The visualizations below aim to help you uncover the patterns in different areas, and raise awareness and remind you to be more cautious if you ever travel to or get involved with certain regions in the United States.

Identity theft is beyond a momentary loss

If you were to be involved in an identity theft case, how long do you expect to get the case resolved? Let’s see what your chances are based on previous victims data.

But there is a silver lining in all of this...

Reports have shown that cybersecurity ranks the very top concern of internet usage in 2017 (Source), suggesting that there is increasing awareness of cybersecurity issues.

Perhaps due to this increasing awareness, spending on building a safer cyber space has also been increasing in recent years (Source).

So what should you do when you've been hacked?

Hover over the info-boxes to show specific recommendations (Information Source).

Social Security Number


  • Set up a fraud alert
  • CRequest a credit freeze
  • Check your credit status
  • File taxes early
  • Monitor your credit statements for unusual behavior

Credit Card Information


  • Check your credit/debit card statements
  • Contact your bank and credit bureaus
  • Change your login information on online shopping websites
  • Cancel your credit/debit card and get a new one
  • File a report at Federal Trade Commission
  • Track purchases on your new card

Social Media Account


  • Check websites for encrypted session (HTTPS) and valid certificates
  • Do not use the same password for various types of accounts
  • Use complex passphrases and a password manager
  • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA)
  • Click (or open attachments) only from senders you know
How to come up with complex passphrases?



  • Backup your data
  • Patch your machines
  • Set up automatic updates
  • Do not pay the ransom
  • Use antivirus program
What is randomsware?

About Us

We are Michelle Ho, Xindi Zhao and Ziqi Guo. This was our final project for Harvard's CS171 Visualization course in Fall 2017.

We would like to thank our advisor Zona Kostic, Professor Johanna Beyer and every member of the teaching team for conducting this amazing course and providing insightful guidance on our project.

More about this project