One of the most common and ubiquitously feared kinds of cybersecurity incident, data breaches are nothing to scoff at. Most businesses are likely aware of the threat of a data breach, but it can still be easy to assume that your data is not important enough to steal, that basic security features are enough to stop breaches, or that remediating a breach is preferable to investing in prevention. However, data breaches have the potential to be catastrophic, causing financial, operational, and reputational damage to an organization. Prevention is crucial, and it is important to understand what data breaches look like and how they occur in order to protect your organization against them.
Types of Data Breaches
The term “data breach” refers to a particular kind of security incident, but it also encompasses many different subcategories. Preventing data breaches requires being aware of the different ways in which they can manifest, not just the most obvious or easily dealt with. Businesses and individuals alike are probably already on the lookout for a couple of the most infamous data breach types. Phishing scams, where attackers imitate legitimate sites to lure the target into sharing sensitive information, are quite commonly known. The same is true of malware and viruses: some of the most basic internet safety rules, like not clicking on unfamiliar links or downloading unknown files, are intended to protect against these attacks.
Some of the other varieties of data breach can be just as harmful, if not more so. Data breaches can arise from bad actors stealing authorized login credentials or user devices to access sensitive assets or areas of the network. Cybercriminals also often use brute force or credential stuffing to gain this same access. Ransomware is a significant danger especially to companies who lack adequate backups of their important data—cybercriminals will restrict the organization’s access to its own data and demand a ransom to return it, but they do not always follow through when the ransom is paid.
Causes of Data Breaches
The causes of data breaches are as widely varied as the types of attack that can occur. Internal threats can arise from a number of root causes, including malicious insiders attacking the organization on purpose for personal gain or as part of a vendetta, negligent insiders causing data leakage or breaches due to human error, and credential thieves using unauthorized access to insider accounts for nefarious means. All it takes is one employee falling for a phishing scam, leaving a device lying around, or sending an email to the wrong recipient to lead to a potentially catastrophic data breach.
Data breaches can also occur when any piece of software has vulnerabilities that are not caught or patched, leaving an opening through which bad actors can infiltrate the system and carry out their attacks. Most applications will have vulnerabilities or gaps in security that cybercriminals can exploit in order to facilitate an attack. While software developers usually patch these vulnerabilities with app updates, users often delay or ignore updates, leaving themselves vulnerable to attacks. Finally, there are physical attacks, where bad actors take the direct route to paper files or physical hardware in order to steal, delete, or destroy potentially sensitive data.
Preventing Data Breaches
Protecting an organization against the many different kinds of data breaches can seem like a daunting task, but there is no shortage of practices, methods, and solutions available to help secure your data. One of the most important steps is to ensure that employees are adequately trained in cybersecurity policies and measures. This can go a long way toward preventing breaches due to social engineering, stolen credentials, and employee negligence. It also goes hand-in-hand with establishing a solid cybersecurity strategy and maintaining it—ensuring that policies are clear and effective, employees are regularly retrained, and software is secure and up to date.
Other important aspects of data breach prevention involve encryption and data backups. Encryption makes it more difficult for bad actors to make use of data, even if they can access it, and backing up important data can combat the possibility of ransomware or data deletion or destruction. When it comes to data loss prevention (DLP) solutions, security professionals should conduct research “to understand the nuances and distinctions among solutions” and find what works best for your organization. Whether it includes monitoring endpoints, data in motion, user behavior, or other areas, a good security solution will help to detect suspicious activity, hopefully before it becomes a data breach or other serious security incident.
A data breach can affect any organization, no matter the size: cybercriminals are always calculating risk vs. reward in their activities, and they can profit from small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with less stringent security strategies just as well as they can from larger organizations. This is why it is crucial for all organizations to have an understanding of what kinds of data breaches exist, how they work, why they occur, and how to prevent them. While there is no one-and-done solution that can provide infallible protection, there are many steps that a company can take to protect against the possibility of a data breach.