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Data Breach Guide: Common Reasons and Prevention Tips

Sarah Marshall | 8 min read| Published On - March 13, 2024

Data Breach Guide

Data breaches involve unauthorized access, copying, viewing, altering, or use of sensitive data by hackers or rogue employees. Incidents range from organized attacks to careless disposal of data storage media. Unstructured data, such as Word documents, Spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations, are particularly vulnerable to loss, theft or accidental exposure. Many jurisdictions have data breach notification laws requiring companies to inform customers and take mitigative actions. Were a company to fall victim to a data breach, it will not only jeopardize the privacy and security of individuals but may also result in significant reputational and financial repercussions.

Types of Sensitive Data Targeted in Data Breaches

The types of information leaked in a data breach may include;

  1. Personally Identifiable Information (PII): This includes details that can be used to identify, contact, or locate an individual.
  2. Financial Data: This might include credit card numbers, bank details, tax forms, invoices, and financial statements.
  3. Medical or Personal Health Information (PHI): This can include any information created by a health care provider concerning a patient’s past, current, or future health condition.
  4. Intellectual Property (IP): This includes patents, trade secrets, blueprints, customer lists, and contracts.
  5. Top Secret Information: This information is typically military or political in nature, like meeting recordings, protocols, agreements, and other highly confidential documents.

Data Breach Costs

Data breaches can inflict substantial financial repercussions on businesses. In 2023, the average cost of a data breach was $4.45 million – a 15% increase over 3 years. In the immediate aftermath of a breach, businesses frequently incur expenses for customer notifications, government penalties, public relations management, legal representation, cyber security investigations, operational disruptions, and declining stock prices. The ramifications of a data breach may also extend beyond the immediate financial impact and include long-term indirect costs. These costs can include reputational damage, diminished trust from partners, severed customer relationships, loss of intellectual property, increased insurance premiums, and reduced long-term profitability.

Reasons of Data Breaches

Sensitive data can be leaked in a variety of ways, which include;

Insider leaks

Insider leaks pose a significant threat to an organization’s security. Disgruntled employees, former employees with lingering access to sensitive data, and business partners may leak information either knowingly or unknowingly. They might leak commercially valuable information for financial gain or perhaps even for revenge. These individuals have intimate knowledge of the organization’s systems and procedures, making it easier for them to bypass security measures and extract sensitive information. The consequences of insider leaks can be severe, leading to reputational damage, financial losses, and legal liabilities.

Payment fraud

A common type of payment fraud is credit card breaches, where unauthorized individuals gain access to credit card numbers and use them to make fraudulent purchases. Another form is fake returns, where individuals purchase items, return them for a refund, and then resell them for personal gain. Triangulation frauds also pose a threat, where fraudsters create fake online stores with enticing low prices and then use stolen payment details to process transactions. These fraudulent practices not only cause financial losses for businesses and consumers but also erode trust in the online marketplace.

Loss or theft

Sensitive information stored on devices such as phones, laptops, thumb drives, hard drives, computers, and servers can be compromised or lost due to loss or theft. This can lead to unauthorized access to private data, financial information, or confidential business documents, posing a significant security risk. It is crucial to implement robust security measures, including encryption, strong passwords, and regular backups, to protect sensitive data from potential breaches or loss.

Unintended disclosure

Unintended disclosure of sensitive information can occur in various ways. Some common scenarios include viewing sensitive data and subsequently saving it to non-secure locations. Additionally, IT staff may unintentionally expose internal servers to the Internet, making confidential data accessible to unauthorized individuals. An example of this would be the multiple instances where data has been unintentionally disclosed due to misconfigured or “leaky” Amazon S3 storage buckets.

Data breach cycle

Breaches often follow a distinct cycle, beginning with reconnaissance. During this phase, potential targets, including IT systems, ports, and protocols, are meticulously scrutinised. Once a suitable target is selected, the next step involves intrusion and presence, where adversaries attempt to penetrate the security perimeter and gain a firm grip on the network. To expand their reach, they engage in lateral movement and privilege escalation, stealthily infiltrating other systems and accounts to enhance their access and control. Finally, the sensitive data is exfiltrated and siphoned out of the network.

Data Leakage Prevention

According to IBM’s 2022 Data Security Report, businesses typically required an average of 277 days, approximately 9 months, to detect and disclose a data breach. Often, these incidents occur without the organization’s awareness, emphasizing the need for robust preventive measures. While data leaks are not entirely avoidable, security experts stress the importance of implementing sound practices to detect, contain, and respond to breaches promptly. To protect their data, organizations should employ comprehensive security measures, including employee training, data encryption, and regular system updates. Additionally, they should establish a clear incident response plan to manage breaches effectively and minimize the impact on their operations and reputation.

Understanding and Addressing Data Breach Vulnerabilities

Organizations need to be proactive in identifying and addressing security vulnerabilities in their systems to protect sensitive data and maintain operational integrity. This involves conducting systematic reviews and continuously monitoring for security weaknesses across various all relevant systems. By doing so, organizations can detect potential entry points for cyberattacks and take necessary actions to mitigate risks.

Simulating Cyber Threats

Simulating cyber threats plays a crucial role in bolstering defenses and minimizing vulnerabilities. Penetration testing, a prominent technique in this domain, involves carefully orchestrated simulated cyberattacks aimed at identifying exploitable weaknesses within IT systems. These tests are conducted by skilled professionals known as penetration testers, who employ a wide range of tools and techniques to emulate real-world attacks.

Educating and Empowering

To bolster an organization’s security posture, it’s crucial to invest in security awareness training that provide staff with the knowledge and skills to safeguard sensitive data. This entails educating employees on security policies and procedures, emphasizing the importance of avoiding social engineering attacks, and providing clear labeling of sensitive data to enhance internal awareness. By doing so, organizations can foster a culture of security consciousness, empowering employees to play an active role in protecting the organization’s assets and information.

Preparing for the Worst

Organizations can strengthen their cybersecurity posture by developing comprehensive mitigation and recovery plans. These plans involve identifying and documenting known threats that pose risks to sensitive systems. Organizations should also establish clear and detailed procedures for responding to security incidents, containing their impact, mitigating the damage, and recovering from the incident. These plans should outline the roles and responsibilities of personnel and the communication channels which they should use in the event of a breach. Regular reviews and updates of these plans are required to ensure their effectiveness in addressing evolving threats and maintaining business continuity.

Protecting the Network Perimeter

Safeguarding the network perimeter is a critical aspect of protecting an organization’s digital assets. It involves employing a suite of security tools and techniques to prevent unauthorized access to the network and deter potential attacks. These tools act as a defensive barrier, constantly monitoring and controlling network traffic, identifying and blocking suspicious activities in real-time.

How Lepide Helps Prevent Data Breaches

The Lepide Data Security Platform offers a comprehensive suite of features to protect sensitive data and ensure compliance with the relevant regulations. It detects and responds to threats, governs access, and provides visibility through data discovery and classification.

Privileged Access Management: The platform determines the number of privileged users in an organization, tracks engagements with sensitive information, notifies of abnormal user activities, oversees logon/logoff activities and manages password resets through an intuitive dashboard.

Unusual User Behavior Detection: The platform detects unusual user behavior, including transferring sensitive files, accessing servers outside of normal hours, and deviations from established patterns.

Advanced Machine Learning and Forensic Analysis: The platform analyzes and monitors user behavior in real-time to detect anomalies and suspicious activities. It collects and correlates data from various sources, quickly identifying potential threats. It provides insights into the root cause of security incidents and aids in forensic analysis following a security incident.

Data Discovery and Classification: The platform locates sensitive data in unstructured data stores in alignment with the relevant compliance requirements. It can also classify sensitive data at the point of creation or modification.

If you’d like to see how the Lepide Data Security Platform can help you detect and respond to data breaches, start your free trial today.

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