Data breaches can be far more than a temporary terror – they may change the course of your life. Businesses, governments, and individuals alike can experience huge complications from having sensitive information exposed. Whether you are offline or online, hackers can get to you through the internet, Bluetooth, text messages, or the online services that you use. Without proper attention to detail, a small vulnerability can cause a massive data breach. Since many people are unaware of how common modern security threats work, they don’t give it enough attention.
What is a Data Breach?
A data breach is a release of confidential, private, or otherwise sensitive information into an unsecured environment. A data breach can occur accidentally, or as the result of a deliberate attack.
Millions of people are affected by data breaches every year, and they can range in scope from a doctor accidentally looking at the wrong patient’s chart, to a large-scale attempt to access government computers to uncover sensitive information.
Data breaches are a major security concern because sensitive data is constantly being transmitted over the Internet. This continuous transfer of information makes it possible for attackers in any location to attempt data breaches on almost any person or business they choose.
Data is also stored in digital form by businesses all over the world. The servers that store the data are often vulnerable to various forms of cyber attacks.
Who is typically targeted?
Major corporations are prime targets for attackers attempting to cause data breaches because they offer such a large payload. This payload can include millions of users’ personal and financial information, such as login credentials and credit card numbers. This data can all be resold on underground markets.
However, attackers target anyone and everyone they can extract data from. All personal or confidential data is valuable to cyber criminals – usually, someone in the world is willing to pay for it.
What happens in a Data Breach?
When cyber-criminal decides to target a company, the first thing they’ll do is look for weaknesses they can exploit. Those weaknesses could be in your company’s staff, in your systems, or your network. They are basically looking for the easiest way to gain entry and access your data.
Once they’ve identified the easiest way in, they’ll then start their attack. Network attacks are via your tech infrastructure (system, apps, or other routes) to get inside your databases. A social attack will look for human weaknesses, and finding a way to get employees to reveal login and password info.
Once the hacker has gained access to one computer or terminal, they then look for ways to access the confidential info held on that computer or your network as a whole. As soon as they have found and extracted the data they wanted, their attack has been successful.
Types of information leaked in a Data Breach
A data breach can result in the leak of several types of information:
- Financial data – such as credit card numbers, bank details, tax forms, invoices, financial statements
- Medical or Personal Health Information (PHI) – as defined in the US HIPAA standard, “information that is created by a health care provider [and] relates to the past, present, or future physical or mental health or condition of any individual”
- Personally Identifiable Information (PII) – information that can be used to identify, contact or locate a person
- Intellectual property – such as patents, trade secrets, blueprints, customer lists, contracts
- Vulnerable and sensitive information (usually of military or political nature) – such as meeting recordings or protocols, agreements, classified documents
How can you recover if your data is exposed in a data breach?
If you’ve been affected by a data breach, here are steps you should take right away.
- Find out what kind of data was stolen. U.S. companies are required to notify customers if their information was breached. If you get this type of notification, try to pinpoint which accounts might be compromised and consider accepting whatever help the company offers. This may include free credit monitoring.
- Contact your financial institution. Whether it’s your credit card issuer or your bank, discuss the next steps such as changing your account numbers, disputing or canceling fraudulent charges, and setting up fraud alerts.
- Change and strengthen your passwords on all accounts. Even accounts that weren’t breached might be compromised later, especially if you’ve been using the same passwords. A password manager can help you create strong passwords, keep them safe, and let you access them when needed.
- Check your free credit reports. This can help you spot errors and fraud, such as new accounts you didn’t authorize. Also, consider freezing your credit files to stop anyone from opening new accounts in your name. Remember, you’ll have to lift the freeze if you need to open new accounts later.
- Look for suspicious activity. Monitor your accounts and look for suspicious activity. This may include charges or withdrawals you didn’t make or new accounts that appear on your credit report.
The takeaway: It’s important to take steps to help protect your personal information. It’s also important to realize what happens when you share personal information: You likely have little control over how your information is secured or what could happen to it in the event of a data breach.
Preventing and Mitigating Data Breaches
Security experts recommend businesses adopt a defense-in-depth security strategy, implementing multiple layers of defense to protect against and mitigate a wide range of data breaches.
A multi-layer security strategy includes:
- Privileged access security solutions monitor and control access to privileged system accounts, which are often targeted by malicious insiders and external attackers.
- Multi-Factor Authentication solutions strengthen identity management, prevent impersonation and reduce risks associated with lost or stolen devices or weak passwords.
- Endpoint threat detection and response tools to automatically identify and mitigate malware, phishing, ransomware, and other malicious activity that can lead to a data breach.
- Least privilege management practices tightly align access rights with roles and responsibilities so that no one has more access than they need to do their job. This helps reduce attack surfaces and contain the spread of certain types of malware that rely on elevated privileges.
Cyber security is like an ongoing battle, with cyber criminals constantly seeking ways to steal info and security experts trying to stop them. Each and every business has the responsibility to protect data.
You need to consider protecting information at every level of your business. That includes communication platforms and any external traffic into or out of your network. Data breach prevention is not just a matter of good business practice, it could avoid the impacts and ongoing cost of a data breach, which could last years.