What are data breaches? A security guide

Business News | 5 Jul |

In 2017, due to the Equifax breach, anyone who wasn’t aware of the sheer amount of damages that a data breach could cause is now up to speed. Anyone asking what are data breaches can immediately point to the Equifax situation as a case study.

The sensitive information of more than 147 million people has been exposed.

Now businesses contend with a public that’s more knowledgeable than ever about data privacy. As well as governmental regulations that hold them legally liable for their own cybersecurity protocols.

If you’re a beginner to the world of cybersecurity, no worries. We’ve got you covered. Keep reading for our full breakdown of what data breaches are all about. In addition to their different phases, and the best cybersecurity practices that you can apply to your business today.

What Are Data Breaches?

Let’s start with the foundational concept of a data breach, then explore more nuanced methodologies from there.

In the simplest of terms, a data breach is when a malicious party exposes sensitive or confidential information to an unauthorized audience or person. It’s getting access to protected data illegally, then sharing them without the owner’s permission.

You might think that it’s only big corporations with millions of users’ data to protect that are under the threat of a data breach at any moment. However, the truth isn’t that simple.

Anyone and any organization or entity, no matter how small, will always be at risk of a data breach.

How Do Data Breaches Happen?

Movies and other sources of pop culture would make you assume that a data breach always comes from an outside hacker or other nefarious parties. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

Sure, there are many cases of data breaches that are fueled by intentional outside parties. But, you’ll be surprised at the sheer number of hackers that are merely opportunists.

Once they see a flaw in your cybersecurity infrastructure that they can use, they’ll take advantage of that they can have. So, let’s see the most common origin points that a data breach can come from, other than the malicious hackers and other nefarious parties.

The Accidental Insider

Sometimes, it can be due to an honest mistake. For instance, an employee might use a co-worker’s computer or device and read some sensitive data without having the proper authorization.

Even though they didn’t share this sensitive information, and their unauthorized access was accidental in nature, this is still considered a data breach. Albeit, a minor one.

The Malicious Insider

Whether under the umbrella of outright corporate espionage, or simply an opportunist insider can purposely access, and share classified data. This is an action taken with the intent to cause harm to specific individuals in the company, or the business entity itself.

The key problem here is accessibility. The insider might have legitimate authorization to access this data, so it’s really difficult to stop such leaks from happening in real-time.

All you can do is to thoroughly vet your employees and set frequent evaluations as to who should be having which level of clearance.

Stolen or Lost Devices

A lost laptop or tablet that’s unlocked can contain a whole treasure trove of sensitive information.

Whether it’s lost or stolen, once you know that such a device is lost, it’s critical to limit, if not outright cancel, all forms of authorization that are attached to the missing device.

Basically, it’s a data breach waiting to happen. The device could be considered an open door, allowing any holder of the device the ability to come in and steal all of your information.

The Phases of a Data Breach

Any data breach will start with its most important step, and that is research. The attacker, once they’ve decided on their target, they’ll start researching and looking for any weaknesses in the system to exploit.

Those weaknesses can be the network itself, your database systems, or even your employees. It’s the most time-consuming step of a data breach, and it’s rather difficult to catch them in the act during this step.

The Attack

Now comes the attack itself. It’s the phase when the attacker makes the first contact with your systems. It can be either a network-based attack or a social attack.

A network-based attack will involve the attacker using any weaknesses found within your infrastructure to start their breach. Some of the more commonly known network-based attacks are SQL injection, session hijacking, and vulnerability exploitation.

As for a social attack, the nefarious party will use a variety of social engineering tactics to gain access to your network. For example, email phishing and adding malware to what seem like legitimate company attachments are all forms of social attacks.

The Exfiltration

Once the attacker has managed to gain access to your system, they’ll be able to extract data from your network.

The data extracted can be used for ransom, blackmail, or even cyber propaganda. Whatever the attacker decides to do with the stolen data, it’ll be a loss for the company.

How to Avoid Data Breaches: Best Practices

Regardless of your industry or business model, you’ll want to have some solid security measures in place, like this DevSecOps.

After all, once an opportunistic attacker finds that you’ve left your home’s door wide open, they won’t be able to resist the temptation of grabbing some of your data.

Once you have implemented a security protocol, you’ll want to ensure that you’re properly patching your networks and systems on time. This can truly save you a lot of money and heartache by preventing potential attackers from exploiting obvious vulnerabilities in outdated software.

The last step is educating your employees and training them in the basics of cybersecurity. They don’t need to turn into IT experts overnight. However, they need to train their ability to recognize social engineering tactics and follow basic cybersecurity rules.

Methodology of Data Breaches: Unlocked

Just the mention of a data breach can make even the most experienced IT professionals stop cold in their tracks.

When it comes to beginners in the field, who are just taking their first steps, it can be rather overwhelming, to say the least. Hopefully, our explainer has shed some light on what are data breaches, their different types, and how to protect your business.

If you liked this article, make sure to check out additional tips and tricks, all available to you in our technology section.

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