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What is a data breach?

Data breaches are becoming more common as digital technology becomes more prevalent. All sizes of organizations are at risk of having their data compromised either through malicious attacks or through accidental mistakes. It isn’t just large corporations like Yahoo and Equifax that experience data breaches. In fact, 60% of small companies go out of business within six months of falling victim to a data breach or cyber attack.

A data breach is a type of cyber attack and occurs when protected, sensitive or confidential data is accessed in an authorized manner. Data breaches can involve different kinds of sensitive information, such as intellectual property, personally identifiable data, personal health information, or financial information.

The most common types of data breaches involve personal information such as Social Security numbers, credit card details, healthcare data, and business information such as customer contact information or software codes. The cost of data breaches has almost doubled in the last year, with the average cost of a data breach in the US being $9.5 million in 2022. These costs include disruption, downtime, recovery, as well as legal and regulatory costs.  

How do data breaches happen? 

Data breaches can occur in a variety of ways, but they are usually the result of a vulnerability or gap in the organization's security posture that cybercriminals exploit to gain access to the system. Unfortunately in almost all cases of data breaches, this vulnerability is caused by human error. 

The following list includes the most common potential causes of data breaches:

Accidental data exposure: A data leak or exposure caused by poor data management or poor judgment can provide cybercriminals with opportunities.

Data on the move: Data transferred inside a corporate local area network, across a wide area network, or to one or more clouds can be intercepted if it is unencrypted. Organizations can protect their data while in transit by deploying uniform cloud security or end-to-end data encryption. 

Malware or ransomware: Malware and malware-related activities, such as SQL injection, can be accessed through systems or applications if they are compromised. 

Access controls: An obvious entry point that can lead to a breach of one system and to lateral movement is the absence or obsolescence of access controls. An example of this is the lack of multifactor authentication (MFA) on all systems and applications. 

Phishing attacks: An attacker impersonating a reputable organization lures victims into opening an email, instant message, or text message to steal user information, including login credentials and credit card numbers. 

Distributed denial of service (DDoS): an attacker can use a DDoS attack to distract security administrators and gain unauthorized access to data. Such an attack may also result in misconfigurations that make it easier for attackers to steal data. 

Keystroke recording: Every keystroke entered into a computing device is recorded by this malicious software and used to steal usernames and passwords, from which data can be accessed. 

Password cracking: Password cracking tools can gain access to systems and data when unlimited password attempts are allowed or simple passwords are accepted. Password manager tools can help keep passwords organized and centrally secured to help users manage complex passwords. 

Physical security breaches: Stealing devices or gaining access to a physical location or network can cause serious loss or damage.

Hardware that is stolen or lost: An unattended or insecure piece of hardware can be used to steal data easily and inexpensively. 

Social engineering: Cybercriminals attempt to gain unauthorized access to systems or processes by manipulating humans. Recently, identity theft on social media has focused on communication and collaboration tools. 

Insider threat: There are numerous cybersecurity incidents resulting from internal users who already have access to or knowledge of networks and systems.

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Data breach prevention 

Preventing a data security breach requires a multi-layered approach to ensure your business data protection is optimal. Steps to take include:

  • Continuous vulnerability scanning and assessments
  • Robust data backup and recovery plan in place
  • Security awareness training that is organization-wide and ongoing
  • Penetration testing 
  • Multi-factor authentication and strong password protocols
  • Update and enforce business data security policies, especially for BYO devices
  • Update software patches and systems as quickly as possible
  • End-to-end encryption. 

Protect sensitive data with the experts

The threat landscape has changed significantly over the past few years. Data and cybersecurity are two of the most prominent challenges that companies face today. A robust security framework and protection are critical for safeguarding your organization. 

The ThreatAdvice Breach Prevention Platform is a cybersecurity oversight platform that offers ongoing risk assessment, and vulnerability management, and ensures that the correct solutions and protocols are in place so that a cybersecurity incident is unlikely to occur. Get in touch with ThreatAdvice today and protect against security incidents now and in the future.