What Is A Data Breach? How To Prevent It

what is a data breach

You’ve recently learned that your company suffered a data breach. You’re undoubtedly wondering what to do next if hackers stole personal information from your business server, an insider stole client information, or information was mistakenly exposed on your company’s website.
What should you do and who should you notify if personal information has been compromised? In this article, we’ll have answers to these questions as well as how to prevent a data breach, the consequences of a data breach, and some notable examples.

What Is a Data Breach?

A data breach is a cyber attack in which sensitive, confidential, or otherwise protected data is improperly accessed or disclosed. From small enterprises to large corporations, data breaches can occur in any size organization. Personal health information (PHI), personally identifiable information (PII), trade secrets, and other confidential information may be included.
Personal information such as credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, and healthcare records are common data breach exposures, as is corporate information such as customer lists and source codes.

What is Targeted During Data Breaches?

Although a data breach might occur due to an unintentional error, actual harm can occur if the person with unauthorized access steals and sells Personally Identifiable Information (PII) or business intelligence data for financial gain or to inflict harm.
Malicious criminals follow a simple pattern: targeting a business for a breach requires advanced planning. They conduct research on their victims to identify weaknesses such as missing or failed upgrades and staff vulnerability to phishing tactics.

Hackers identify a target’s weak areas and then devise a campaign to trick insiders into downloading malware. They sometimes go target the network directly.

Once inside, dangerous hackers have complete access to the data they seek – and plenty of time to do it, as the average breach takes more than five months to identify.
Malicious offenders frequently exploit the following vulnerabilities:

#1. Weak Credentials.

The vast majority of data breaches are the result of stolen or compromised credentials. If unscrupulous thieves obtain your username and password, they have access to your network. Because most people reuse their passwords, cybercriminals can use brute force assaults to get access to email, websites, bank accounts, and other sources of personally identifiable information or financial information.

#2. Stolen Credentials.

Phishing-related security breaches are a serious concern, and if cyber thieves obtain this Personal information, they can use it to access things like your bank and internet accounts.

#3. Compromised Assets

Malware assaults of various types are used to circumvent standard authentication measures that would ordinarily safeguard a computer.

#4. Fraudulent use of a credit card.

Card skimmers are devices that attach to gas pumps or ATMs and take data when a card is swiped.

#5. Access from a third party.

Despite your best efforts to keep your network and data secure, unscrupulous hackers may exploit third-party providers to get access to your system.

#6. Mobile phones.

When employees are allowed to bring their own devices (BYOD) to work, insecure devices can easily download malware-laden programs that enable hackers access to data saved on the device. This frequently contains work email and files, as well as the owner’s personally identifiable information.

What Causes Data Breaches?

The assumption is that a data breach is the result of an external hacker, although this is not always the case.
In some cases, the causes of data breaches can be traced back to deliberate attacks. It could, however, be the result of a simple error by employees or weaknesses in a company’s infrastructure.
In today’s cyber ecosystem, probable causes of a data breach include the following:

#1. Unintentional data leakage or exposure.

Mistakes in configuration or slips in judgment with data might provide chances for attackers.

#2. Moving data

Unencrypted data can be intercepted while traveling within a business local area network, across a wide area network, or to one or more clouds. Organizations can strengthen their data protection by implementing uniform cloud security and end-to-end data encryption.

#3. Malware, Ransomware, or Structured Query Language

Gaining access to systems or applications allows malware and malware-related behaviors, such as SQL injection, to take place.

#4. Phishing.

While phishing frequently employs malware to steal data, it can also employ various methods to obtain information that can be utilized to get data access.

#5. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS).

Threat actors can use a DDoS attack to distract security administrators so that they can obtain access to data through other means. Furthermore, changes made by the organization to combat an attack can result in misconfigurations that provide additional data theft chances.

#6. Keystrokes are being recorded.

This type of malicious software logs every keystroke made on a computer and utilizes it to steal usernames and passwords that can be used to access data.

#7. Guessing passwords.

Password cracking tools can be used to obtain access to systems and data when limitless password tries are permitted or simple passwords are accepted. Password management programs are one approach to help users manage complex passwords and keep credentials organized and centrally secured.

#8. Breach of physical security.

Gaining access to a physical place or network where sensitive data is housed can result in significant loss or damage to a company.

#9. Card skimmers and point-of-sale intrusion.

A user-focused attack reads credit or debit card information and then uses it to breach or circumvent security mechanisms.

#10. Misplaced or Stolen Hardware

Unattended or unsecured hardware provides a simple and low-tech technique to steal data.

#11. Social manipulation.

Cybercriminals use human manipulation to obtain illegal access to systems or processes. These threats typically target communication and collaboration platforms, as well as, more lately, identity theft on social media.

#12. Lack of access controls.

Access controls that are either absent or out of date are a clear access point that can lead to a breach of one system with the added risk of lateral movement. Not implementing multifactor authentication (MFA) on all systems and applications is one example of a lack of access controls.

#13. Backdoor.

Any undocumented way of getting access, whether deliberate or unintentional, is a clear security concern that frequently results in data loss.

#14. Insider danger.

Many cybersecurity issues are caused by internal users who have access to or knowledge of networks and systems. This is why tracking user actions is so important.

The Consequences of a Data Breach

Many data breaches cannot be remedied simply by changing passwords. A data leak can have long-term consequences for your reputation, finances, and other assets.

  • For Businesses: A data breach can have a devastating impact on a company’s reputation as well as its financial bottom line. Equifax, Target, and Yahoo, for example, have all been the victims of data breaches. And many individuals now associate/remember those organizations for the data breach issue rather than their actual company operations.
  • For Government Agencies: Corrupted data can mean revealing sensitive information to foreign parties. Military operations, political negotiations, and information about critical national infrastructure can all constitute a significant threat to a government and its citizens.
  • For Individuals: Identity theft is a significant hazard to data breach victims. Leaks of data can expose anything from social security numbers to banking details. Once a criminal has your information, they can commit any type of fraud in your name. Identity theft can wreck your credit and land you in legal trouble, and it is difficult to fight back.

While these are common scenarios, the damage caused by data breaches can go well beyond these. As a result, it is critical that you investigate whether your data has already been compromised.

The greatest method to defend oneself, of course, is to avoid becoming a victim in the first place. No security plan is flawless, but there are steps you can do to protect yourself, whether you’re an individual or a business.

What You Can Do to Prevent Becoming a Victim of a Data Breach

Everyone at all levels, from end users to IT employees, and everyone in between, must be involved in data breach prevention.
When it comes to preventing data breaches or leaks, security is only as good as the weakest link. Every person who interacts with a system has the potential to be a vulnerability. Even little children with a tablet connected to your home network can pose a threat.
Here are some best practices for avoiding data breaches.

  • Implement patching and software updates software as soon as they become available.
  • Encryption of the highest level for sensitive data.
  • Upgrading devices when the manufacturer’s software is no longer supported.
  • Enforcing BYOD security regulations, such as mandating that all devices use a business-grade VPN provider and antivirus protection.
  • To encourage better user cybersecurity behaviors, enforce strong credentials and multi-factor authentication. Encouraging people to utilize a password manager can be beneficial.
  • Employee education on proper security procedures and how to avoid socially engineered attacks.

How to Get Back on Track After a Data Breach

When a data breach is discovered, time is important in order for data to be potentially restored and for additional breaches to be limited. When responding to a breach, the following actions can be used as a guide:

#1. Identify and isolate any affected systems or networks.

Cybersecurity technologies can assist firms in determining the scope of a data breach and isolating affected systems or networks from the rest of the company infrastructure. These solutions also help to ensure that rogue actors cannot move laterally within a network, possibly exposing more data.

#2. Formalize your risk assessment of the circumstance.

This stage requires identifying any secondary threats for users or systems that may still be present. Compromises of user or system accounts, as well as compromised backdoors, are examples. Forensic tools and specialists can collect and analyze systems and software to determine what occurred.

#3. Restore systems and address security flaws.

This stage rebuilds and recovers impacted systems as best as possible using clean backups or brand-new hardware or software. This process also includes security updates or workarounds to address any security weaknesses discovered during the post-breach risk assessment.

#4. Notify those who are affected.

Once the systems and software are operational again, the next step is to notify all relevant parties of the data breach and what it implies to them in terms of data theft. This list changes depending on the data at hand. It does, however, frequently include the following: legal departments; employees, customers, and partners; credit card firms and financial institutions; and cyber risk insurance companies.

#5. Keep track of the lessons you’ve learned.

Information and knowledge gained from the breach should be thoroughly documented in order to preserve the occurrence in writing for future reference and to assist individuals involved in understanding what mistakes were made so that they do not happen again.

Examples of Data Breach

According to the Verizon 2022 “Data Breach Investigations Report,” the banking business has the most verified data breaches, followed by information services, manufacturing, and education. In recent years, there have been numerous massive data breaches at both huge corporations and government institutions.

#1. Colonial Pipeline Company

Colonial Pipeline, a large oil pipeline operator in the United States, succumbed to a ransomware attack in May 2021, affecting automated operational technology used to monitor oil flow. This incident impacted more than a dozen East Coast states and required several months to fully repair, despite the fact that the corporation paid the ransom to restore key data and software that had been taken and left inoperable.

#2. Microsoft

Microsoft reported in March 2021 that it had been the target of a huge cyber attack that affected 60,000 businesses globally. In this scenario, hackers exploited a number of zero-day vulnerabilities in Microsoft Exchange. Those who used the stolen email servers had their emails exposed, and hackers implanted malware and backdoors to further attack unwitting organizations and governments.

#3. Sony Pictures Entertainment

Sony Pictures Entertainment’s corporate network was shut down in late 2014 after threat actors deployed malware that disabled workstations and servers. Guardians of Peace, a hacker organization, claimed responsibility for the data breach; the gang uploaded unreleased films seized from Sony’s network, as well as private communications from corporate executives.
Guardians of Peace was suspected of having ties to North Korea, and cybersecurity experts and the US government eventually blamed the data breach on North Korea.

During the breach, the hacker gang made threats against Sony’s 2014 comedy The Interview, causing the company to cancel its theatrical premiere. The plot of the film revolved around the killing of a fictional version of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

#4. Target

Target Corp. announced a significant data breach in 2013 that exposed customer names and credit card information. Target’s data breach affected 110 million customers and resulted in multiple lawsuits filed by customers, state governments, and credit card providers. Legal settlements totaled tens of millions of dollars for the company.


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