A data breach occurs when information held by an organisation is stolen or accessed without authorisation. In this blog post we are going to outline the most common causes of data breaches and some tips on how to prevent them.
The 8 Most Common Causes Of Data Breach
Data breaches don’t have to be caused by someone acting maliciously. A study by IBM revealed that more than half of all data breaches were the result of human error.
The most frequent errors involved sensitive information being sent to the wrong person. For example, an email containing passwords sent to the wrong person, attaching the wrong document or giving a physical file to someone who should not have access to the information contained.
Another common cause of human error is misconfiguration, which usually involves placing a database online, that contains sensitive information, without any password restrictions.
Malware, short for ‘malicious software’, is an umbrella term that describes any malicious program or code that is harmful to systems. These are developed by cybercriminals (often referred to as hackers) to steal data and damage or destroy computers and computer systems. Examples of common malicious software includes viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, adware and ransomware.
Lost or Stolen Devices
Physical theft or the loss of a device containing sensitive information is one of the most common types of data breach. This can include laptops, desktops, hard drives, USB drives, smartphones, tables, CD’s and even servers.
This form of data breach can be categorised into two segments – intentional and malicious. Every day in the news, there are examples of sheer negligence of employees in unintentionally sharing passwords, losing their laptops, hard drives, papers or smartphones on trains, in cafes or at bus stops. A high profile example of this is when classified Ministry of Defence documents were found at a bus stop in 2021.
The severity of a data breach from a lost or stolen device depends largely on the nature of the information stored on the device.
Social engineering is the art of manipulating people so they give up confidential information. The information these criminals are after varies. However, when individuals are targeted the criminals are usually trying to trick them into providing their passwords, bank information or access to their computer so that they can secretly install malicious software. This malware will then give them access to passwords and bank information as well as giving them control over your device.
Social engineering is becoming more popular with criminals as it is usually a lot easier to exploit someone’s trust than it is to locate a backdoor into a computer system or software. For example, it is far easier to trick someone into giving you their password than trying to hack it.
A malicious insider is a person who purposely accesses and/or shares data with the intent of causing hard to an individual or business. This person might have legitimate authorisation to use the data, but the intent is to use the information in criminal way.
Although preventing insider abuse is near enough impossible, damage can be limited through the compartmentalization of information on your computer network. The fewer files and systems a single employee can access, the harder it is for them to abuse their access.
An example of an accidental insider would be an employee using a colleagues computer and reading documents without having the proper authorisation permissions. The access is unintentional, and no information is shared. However, as it was viewed by an unauthorised employee, the data is considered to be breached.
Weak and Stolen Credentials
A huge number of data breaches are caused by weak or stolen usernames and passwords. If hackers have your credentials, they have an open door into your computer network. As most people reuse passwords, hackers can use brute force attacks to gain access to sensitive information such as emails, websites and bank accounts.
Unpatched Security Vulnerabilities
Hackers love to exploit software applications which are written poorly or network systems which are badly designed or executed. They leave holes that hackers can crawl straight through to get access to your data.
It is important to keep all software and hardware solutions updated and fully patched to close any back doors that could give hackers easy access to your businesses most sensitive information.
How To Prevent A Data Breach
Data breach prevention needs to be implemented right across an organisation. From end-users right the way through to the IT department. When you are creating a plan to prevent a data breach, leak or cyber attack it is important to remember that your business is only as strong as the weakest link. Every employee who interacts with the computer system could be a potential vulnerability.
Here are a number of best practices that your business can implement to help avoid a data breach:
Train your staff on the best security practices and how to avoid socially engineered attacks. Awareness of sensitive data and security should be part of a businesses culture.
Patch & Update Software
Ensure software is updated and patched regularly to avoid back doors for hackers to exploit.
Enforce Strong Passwords & Two-Factor Authentication
Employees should be enforced to use strong credentials to encourage better user cybersecurity practices.
Encryption & Data Backup
Personal data should be encrypted, including on laptops issued to employees. Data should be backed up to cloud services rather than to old fashioned backup tapes or external hard drives which can easily be lost or stolen.
You should carry out regular vulnerability assessments to review and address any changes or new risks in data protection. All aspects should be considered, such as data storage and remote access for employees. Having a third party carry out a risk assessment is also a great way to help prevent data breaches. This will allow an objective and outside view of the current breach risks.
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