Three Ways In Which Devastating Data Breaches Can Take Place

When it comes to the most valuable resources available to an organization, it’s tough to think of much that trumps data. Simply put, data is one of the most valuable assets on the planet, helping create a seemingly unending supply of “unicorns,” a.k.a. startups valued at upwards of $1 billion. 

Whether your company is bound to become the next Silicon Valley giant, however, there’s no getting around how much data can add to an organization. Data can help dictate companies strategy, give them a wellspring of vital resources to monetize, and eliminate guesswork. A user that is granting access to their data with a company is not just placing their faith in that organization, they’re also giving said organization just about the most important asset that they own.

Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with any valuable resource, the ramifications of losing it are pretty heavy. From fines for failing to protect data to damaged corporate reputations, the results of a data breach can be extremely serious. Here are three ways data breaches can take place — and why measures such as Data Loss Prevention (DLP) are vital for any modern organization.

#1. Insider threats

Remember that old horror movie cliche about the terrorized babysitter, harassed with phone calls, finally being informed that the “call is coming from inside the house?” A similar phenomenon exists when it comes to data leaks. Traditional perimeter-based security systems have operated on a castle and moat premise, assuming that 100 percent of threats come from outside and that, so long as you’re able to keep these threats at bay, you’ll maintain high levels of effective security. 

While there are certainly external threats (more on them in a bit), it is also true that there are no shortage of examples of insider threats being responsible for data leaks. These threats may either involve a malicious insider, such as a disgruntled employee, or else attackers who have managed to break into a system by abusing the permissions. In both cases, data leaks take place when these actors are able to move data from the inside of an organization to the outside — seemingly entirely legitimately.

#2. Unintentional exposure

Data breaches are growing in number all the time. When you think about who is responsible for this, chances are that you picture some kind of hooded Hollywood hacker tapping away at a keyboard to glean your hard-earned data. The idea that many breaches may be accidental is, well, less likely to be the stuff that cyber espionage movies are made of. However, this is where many data breaches do, in fact, come from. 

In contrast to the malicious insiders mentioned above, unintentional data exposure can come about from lack of attention, lack of proper cyber security education, or plain negligence on the part of those with access. One clear illustration of this could involve operator errors, system administrator errors, or programming errors that leave databases exposed to the outside world. Regardless of how it takes place, the results can be extremely dangerous — and, frustratingly, often come from those individuals who do have your best interests at heart, but who have made temporary lapses in judgment.

#3. Attacker extrusion

Don’t think that the previous two examples negate the prevalence of attackers seeking out sensitive data to extrude. Many examples of data breaches involve specifically targeted cyber attacks designed to access and extrude data. In some cases, this can involve malware or code injection techniques like SQL injection that can be used to steal information from databases. 

Another very common attack involves so-called “phishing” attacks of varying complexity. In some instances, these may be simple messages that pretend to be from a bank or online service, requesting that the recipient clicks a link and enters some personal information for an ostensibly innocent task like accessing a message. The more valuable the potential data, the more effort attackers may make with phishing attacks: personalizing them with well-researched information about an organization to make them appear authentic. The results could trick even the most seasoned cyber security professional.

Protecting against data leaks

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to cracking down on data leaks. However, tools such as Data Loss Prevention (DLP) can — and should — be a backbone of organizations’ defense against this happening. 

DLP tools can help safeguard Personally Identifiable Information (PII), achieve data visibility in the event of a threat, secure data when it comes to remote cloud systems, and more. Measures such as file firewalls can help to monitor the access of sensitive files and data, and alert and automatically block any actions which seem to violate those security policies. Increasingly, technology like machine learning can also help to learn what constitutes suspicious behavior on behalf of users as a way to seek out insider threats.

By bringing in cyber security experts to help with these DLP tasks, organizations can make sure that they are properly protected. Doing so is one of the smartest moves any organization — be it a business or otherwise — can make.

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