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What is a Data Breach?

A data breach occurs when critical, private, or restricted data is obtained/released without authorization.

A data breach may affect anybody, from individuals to large corporations and governments. More significantly, if someone is not protected, they can endanger others as well. Personal information, such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, driver's license numbers, and healthcare records, as well as company information, customer lists, and source code, are all common data breach targets.

It may appear like large-scale data breaches are routinely reported in the news these days. But that shouldn't come as a big surprise. As technology advances, more data is being transferred to the digital realm. As a result, cyberattacks are becoming more regular and costlier.

When a data breach leads to identity theft/contravention of govt or sector compliance mandates, the guilty company may suffer penalties, lawsuits, reputational damage, and even the loss of its business license.

Why Do Data Breaches Occur?

In general, data breaches occur as a result of flaws in technology and user behaviors.

As our computers and mobile devices grow more linked, there are more opportunities for data to breach. New technologies are emerging at a faster rate than we can protect them. We are increasingly preferring convenience over security, as seen by IoT (Internet of Things) gadgets. Hackers are taking advantage of key flaws in "smart home" devices, such as a lack of encryption. We'll expect to see this issue expand since new digital goods, services, and technologies are being employed with inadequate security testing.

Even if the backend technology is excellent, some users will continue to engage in unfavorable digital behaviors. It just takes one person to hack a website or network. You're virtually certainly at risk if you don't have complete security at both the user and corporate levels.

Physical, electronic, and skimming are the main groups of data breaches. They all have the same level of risk and repercussions, but they are all executed differently. It's crucial to understand the variations between data breaches since they necessitate different steps to keep data protected. Below you can find common types of data breaching.

1. Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that infects a computer and stops users from accessing it unless they pay a ransom. For numerous years, ransomware versions have been discovered, and they frequently try to extort money from victims by showing an on-screen alert. The user's systems have been locked or the user's files have been encrypted, according to these notifications. Users are informed that access will not be restored unless a ransom is paid. Individuals are regularly required to pay a ransom in virtual money such as Bitcoin.

2. Phishing

Phishing attacks are carried out by phishers who employ hostile social engineering techniques to get information from unwary victims. Credit card numbers, personal identification numbers, usernames, and passwords are just a few examples. Phishing email scams and website email scams are two of the most regularly employed strategies. The email scams are made to appear as though they were received from reputable organizations or persons the recipients are familiar with. They frequently contain malicious malware that will automatically download to the recipients' computers or lead to bogus websites that are made to seem real through design, typosquatting, and the use of Unicode domains.

3. SQL Injection

SQL injection, or SQLI, is a common attack vector in which malicious SQL code is used to change backend databases and get access to data that was not intended to be shown. Everything from sensitive company data to user lists to private consumer information might be included in this data. SQL injection may have a huge impact on a company's bottom line. A successful attack might result in the attacker reading illegal user lists, deleting whole tables, and, in certain situations, acquiring administrator rights to a database, all of which are extremely damaging to a corporation.

4. Physical Theft or Loss

If sensitive papers and computer data are not kept physically safe, they may be exposed to theft or unintentional disclosure. Desktops and servers that are left unattended and unsecured in open, public spaces or workplaces might be readily removed. Laptops that are left unattended and not secured with a cable lock are also vulnerable to theft. Anyone who has access to a computer that has been left unattended and turned on can access it. Anyone with access to your computer might look for and take data, as well as read your email.

5. Social Engineering

In the context of cybersecurity, social engineering is the use of deceit to persuade people to give up their personal information online. Cyber attackers then make use of this information. Penetrating an ecosystem is the most challenging part of a data breach effort. Because victims are handing threat actors the keys to the internal network, social engineering attacks make this step much easier. Social Engineering attacks will continue to be common since they benefit cybercriminals so much.

6. A Malicious Insider

Malicious insiders steal data on a deliberate and planned basis. An employee or contractor, for example, may exfiltrate sensitive information for monetary gain, a competitive advantage, or just because they are resentful at being dismissed or furloughed.

An unusual amount of network activity might suggest an inside danger. Similarly, if an employee acts disgruntled or has a grudge against someone, or if an employee begins to take on extra work with an unusual amount of zeal, this might be a sign of foul play. Insider threat indicators that may be tracked include unusual activity, the volume of traffic, the nature of the activity.

7. Unsecure Mobile Devices

Our constant digital companions, smartphones, make our lives easier. They can also be used as an alternative to workplace computers. However, as people use more smart gadgets and apps, the number of mobile security risks and data breaches has skyrocketed. Mobile malware is becoming one of the top security threats. A decade ago, malware and virus risks obtained through mobile use would have appeared improbable. In 2018, however, the number of occurrences of mobile malware has risen to millions. iOS and Android are often regarded as the most reliable and secure operating systems in the workplace. They, too, are vulnerable to dangerous viruses, which are becoming increasingly sophisticated and misleading with time. Weak encryption during app development, along with the widespread usage of mobile devices in the workplace as a result of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) acceptance, creates the ideal environment for mobile attacks.

What is the Most Common Cause of a Data Breach?

The rise in cyber-attacks that began in 2020 has continued well into 2021. According to Verizon's 2021 Data Breach Investigation Report, they have investigated 29,207 events throughout the world so far. There were 5,258 confirmed data breaches as a result of these events. An examination of these breaches reveals the following:

A human factor was present in 85 percent of the breaches. Ransomware was used in 10% of breaches, up from 5% the year before. Cloud-hosted assets were hacked at a higher rate than those on-premises. Many of these hacks were motivated by financial gain, focusing on sensitive data that can be readily sold and lucratively exploited.

Human error, like in previous years, posed the greatest danger to security. To get a foothold in business infrastructure, cybercriminals are largely relying on social engineering approaches. Insider dangers, whether deliberate or unintentional, require significant consideration.

Most Common Cause and prevention methods  of a Data Breach

Figure 1. Most Common Causes and Prevention Methods of a Data Breach

What are the Phases of a Data Breach?

Although we're becoming more conscious of data breaches, our grasp of how they operate hasn't kept up with the rising number of cyberattacks. They've gotten so frequent that one in every three Americans had their health records hacked in 2015. A review of the five steps of a data breach is crucial in preventing intrusions.

  1. Conducting a Target Analysis: A data breach usually begins with the hackers conducting an extensive investigation into the target organization's operations. Criminals could look at job postings to see what kind of hardware and software the company employs. They might go through financial documents and court records to see how much the target spends on cybersecurity. Additionally, hackers may locate the target's business partners in the hopes of compromising them first, allowing them access to the target's systems.
  1. Identifying Vulnerabilities: Hackers will then scan or "probe" the target's systems for flaws. They usually employ software applications that scan the ports on the target machine and report which ones are open. Hackers will also aim to "enumerate" anything on the target network, including devices and accounts because any of these might be used as a point of access if the network is susceptible. The hackers will next use tools to look for known flaws or to discover whether the system has a previously unknown flaw. Network security monitoring is critical for detecting flaws before they are discovered by hackers. This security procedure can detect odd probing behavior and notify IT, staff, allowing them to take protective steps. In addition to examining troublesome traffic, SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) and log management technologies can help.
  1. Taking Advantage of Vulnerabilities: Following the discovery of system vulnerabilities (given to an open port), the hackers will run exploit code to exploit the flaws. Organizations may defend themselves by adopting a proactive security posture that seeks out flaws and mitigates them before hackers can exploit them. They may use vulnerability management to scan their systems for flaws like zero-day threats regularly
  1. Payload Delivery: The hackers' next step is to deliver the payload now that they've hacked the network. They might do so by infecting computers with malware, hijacking servers, or gaining access to internal user accounts. By this point, the hackers have gained access to their target's system and are ensuring that they can obtain the vital information they desire.
  1. Data Extraction: Finally, the data that the hackers were looking for will be downloaded, whether it be credit card information, medical records, intellectual property, or anything else.

What are the Potential Damages of a Data Breach?

The wide range of dangers that organizations face when they become victims of a data breach may be devastating to their income and reputation, and dealing with the fallout can be extremely costly. Four negative consequences of a data breach are explained below.

  1. Monetary Loss: For many people/organizations, the financial loss sustained as a result of a data breach is the most devastating effect. Depending on the type of breach, a variety of financial issues may arise. Businesses that experience data breaches may face expenses associated with controlling the intrusion, paying impacted consumers, realizing a lower share value, and increasing security expenditures. Although business executives cannot predict how or whether financials would be impacted in the case of a breach, the losses have traditionally been severe.
  1. Reputational Damage: News spreads quickly in today's hyper-connected society. In the days after a breach, even those who have never heard of your company will almost definitely learn about it. A data breach may be damaging to a company, especially if the incident could have been avoided or if consumer data was compromised. Lost confidence, negative news, identity theft, and potential consumers' opinions of your company can all be impacted, wreaking havoc on your reputation and producing long-term issues.
  1. Disruptions in Operations: In the aftermath of a data breach, business activities are frequently affected. Companies must keep a tight grip on the breach and undertake a comprehensive investigation into how it happened and which systems were compromised. It's possible that operations will have to be shut down altogether until investigators have all of the information they need. Depending on the severity of the breach, this procedure might take days or even weeks. This can have a significant impact on revenue and the capacity of a company to recover.
  1. Legal Consequences: Cyber breaches regularly reveal people's personal information, which usually results in class-action lawsuits. Target, Home Depot, and Neiman Marcus are just a few instances of recent data breaches that have harmed customers and resulted in tens of millions of dollars being paid out in lawsuits and settlements. When you factor in all of the legal fees that come with these awards, companies are looking at considerably larger expenditures than most can afford. Authorities may even prohibit corporations from carrying out specific operations until legal investigations are completed, which might result in extra long-term problems.

How to Prevent a Data Breach?

Because data breaches may take many different shapes and occur in a number of ways, you must be vigilant and utilize a range of measures to protect yourself. You can find 6 strategies below to prevent a data breach in your organization.

  1. Educate/Train Employees

  2. Restrict access.

  3. Use a Firewall

  4. Use Strong Passwords

  5. Control Computer Usage

  6. Improve General Security

1. Educate/Train Employees

One of the most effective strategies to avoid data breaches is to fight ignorance. It is critical to teach your staff how to secure data from being stolen. By assisting them in recognizing, avoiding, and reporting phishing scams and other suspicious conduct, you can help them understand how to create strong passwords, how frequently they should update their passwords, and how to recognize, avoid, and report phishing scams and other suspicious activities.

2. Restrict access

Every employee used to have complete access to all of their computer's files. Companies are learning the hard way how to protect their more sensitive data these days. After all, there's no need for a mailroom employee to see consumer financial information. Limiting who may access certain articles reduces the number of employees who could accidentally click on a potentially harmful link. Expect to see all records partitioned off in the future, with access granted only to those with a specific need. This is one of those common-sense concepts that should have been applied years ago by corporations.

3. Use a Firewall

Firewalls are the first line of defense in terms of network security. A correctly configured firewall acts as a barrier between networks with differing levels of trust. It's critical to maintain the local firewall turned on at all times since it's the greatest approach to protect your network against malicious attacks.

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This technology provides state-of-the-art, next-generation functionality not yet accessible in open-source firewalls such as OPNsense. If you're using an L4 firewall (all open source firewalls fall into this category) and want capabilities like Application Control, Network Analytics, and TLS Inspection, Zenarmor can help.

Unauthorized connections and harmful malware are kept out of your network by Zenarmor to protect your business from a data breach. It watches all network traffic and, if it identifies a computer or application attempting to enter the network, it chooses whether to restrict or allow access depending on your pre-defined criteria.

4. Use Strong Passwords

Poor passwords can lead to data breaches in numerous circumstances. An employee could, for example, write down their password and leave it on their desk in plain sight, or pick a simple password that can be cracked or guessed. Because computing power is getting cheaper and popular password lists are getting longer, it's up to your company to implement strong password regulations.

Employees should be reminded of the importance of password security to avoid data breaches caused by passwords. Employees should be required to use strong passwords and not write them down by their employers. Consider implementing multi-factor authentication to systems with sensitive data, which needs both a password and a one-time password to obtain access.

5. Control Computer Usage

Even if there is an ethical debate over this, system monitoring might be a valuable addition to your company's security. Insider behavior monitoring lets a member of the HR or IT departments see how their employees use their computers. This allows them to keep track of who is accessing which files. They can keep track of who saved or sent anything and where it was saved or transmitted. When you track the movement of data, you can figure out exactly when it left the secure zone and who was responsible for it.

6. Improve General Security

Improving your overall security is also a crucial step. Solutions like improved design, firewalls, VPNs, traffic monitoring and limitation, and even routine upgrades may make a great impact. While you are at it, double-check your third-party vendors to reduce the third-party risk; even a passing link to an untrustworthy corporation might put your company at risk.

What are the Laws Around Data Breaches?

Security breach notification laws, also known as data breach notification laws, are state-enacted laws that force persons or companies affected by a data breach, or unauthorized access to data, to notify their customers and other parties and take certain steps to correct the issue. There are two basic aims of data breach notification legislation. The primary purpose is to provide people an opportunity to protect themselves from data breaches. The second purpose is to incentivize companies to improve data security. These objectives work together to reduce customer harm caused by data breaches, such as impersonation, fraud, and identity theft.

Since 2002, such legislation has been implemented in all 50 U.S. states on a sporadic basis. Data breach notification rules have now been implemented in all 50 states. It should be emphasized, however, that despite earlier legislative initiatives, there is no federal data breach reporting statute. These rules were enacted in response to an uptick in data breaches affecting personally identifiable information in consumer databases. To address the increased amount of data breaches, a number of other countries have passed data breach reporting laws, such as the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Australia's Privacy Amendment (Notifiable Data Breaches) Act 2017 (Cth).