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The 5 Most Common Types of Data Breaches And How They Affect Your Business

Arooj Anwar
By: Arooj Anwar Cyber Security | 14 November

According to the 2022 data breach report by IBM the average cost of a data breach has reached a record high of $4.35 million. Data breaches can have a severe and lasting impact on your company, cause significant financial losses and can also result in damage to your company’s reputation. To successfully fight against cyberattacks, it's important that you make cybersecurity awareness and prevention part of your culture as 95% of cybersecurity breaches are caused by human error. In this blogpost we talk about what a data breach is, what the different types of cyberattacks are that can constitute a data breach and how you can minimize the risk of this happening. 

What is a data breach? 

A data breach is a security incident in which sensitive information is accessed or stolen by unauthorized individuals. This can happen because of cyberattacks, hacking, malware, phishing, or other ways of getting into computer systems without permission. When a data breach occurs, personal and sensitive may be revealed. This can cause problems like identity theft, financial loss or reputational damage for the people and organizations involved.

Data breaches can affect both small and large organizations, including yours. While big companies often make headlines, 60 percent of targeted attacks actually impact smaller businesses. Even if not widely reported, data breaches in small companies can still have serious consequences for everyone involved.

The 5 most common types of data breaches  

Data breaches come in varying degrees of severity. Even a simple incident like an employee leaving files in a coffee shop is considered a breach, though the impact is likely minimal. On the other hand, sophisticated cybercriminal attacks can cause significant damage, leading to serious consequences. In this blogpost, we'll explore the five most common types of data breaches and their potential effects on your business. Let's get started!

Phishing attacks  

Phishing is a familiar term to many of us, and it comes in various forms like spear phishing, whaling, pharming, smishing and vishing. Though these attacks differ in their methods, they all have one thing in common: they can cause data breaches. Phishing is a type of cyber attack where attackers use deceptive techniques, such as fake emails or websites, to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords, credit card numbers, or personal details. The attackers pretend to be trustworthy sources to gain access to private data, which they can then misuse for various malicious purposes. 

Preventative strategies for phishing attacks 

It only takes one employee to fall for a phishing attack for a data breach to happen, that’s why it's one of the most important threats to mitigate and the most difficult since it requires human defenses. To reduce the risks of phishing in your company it's important that you create a culture of awareness by making data security a part of everyday conversation.  

  1. Employee training: Conduct regular phishing awareness training to educate staff on identifying suspicious emails, links, and attachments. 
  2. Email filtering: Implement advanced email filtering solutions to block malicious messages before they reach employees' inboxes. 
  3. Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Enforce 2FA for accessing critical systems and accounts to prevent unauthorized access even if credentials are compromised. 

Human error  

According to a study by IBM, 95% of all security breaches are a result of human error. All it takes is an employee leaving a computer or phone somewhere and having it stolen. Even some of the most skilled people on your team may let their guard down and risk leaking data from essential files by sending files containing sensitive data to someone outside of the organization. Read more about how sending personal data through email can be the biggest reason for security breaches.  

Preventative strategies to reduce the risks of human error in data breaches 

Cybercriminals are there to take advantage of your employees' mistakes, therefore it's important that you focus on creating a culture of awareness within your company by promoting cybersecurity best practices, supported by policies and procedures. You might not be able to eliminate human error all together, but it is possible to minimize it through the following:  

  1. Phishing testimonials: Share stories and testimonials of real phishing incidents to create a personal connection with the risks involved. Hearing about the consequences of falling for phishing attacks can make employees more cautious. 
  2. Regular security reminders: Send periodic security reminders to all employees, reinforcing the importance of staying vigilant against phishing attempts and emphasizing the potential consequences of a successful attack.
  3. Employee recognition programs: Establish a program to recognize and reward employees who demonstrate exemplary cybersecurity practices and successfully identify phishing attempts. 

Ransomware attacks 

Ransomware attacks are designed to deny organizations access to files on their computer. By encrypting these files and demanding a ransom payment cybercriminals place organizations in a position where they think paying the ransom is the easiest and cheapest way to regain access to their files. Ransomware attacks are serious in nature because of the amount of data that could potentially be lost when a cybercriminal gains access to your entire system in comparison to when a data breach occurs due to human error from sending an email to the wrong recipient.  

Preventative strategies for ransomware attacks 

It is better is to reduce the risk of data breaches, rather than deal with the consequences once they have occurred. With that in mind here are our top tips on how you can reduce the risk of a ransomware attack. 

  1. Keep software patched and updated: Make sure anti-malware applications, operating systems, and third-party software have the latest patch installed. New ransomware versions come out regularly, and software updates ensure that your anti-malware recognizes newer threats.
  2. Always have backups: The best way to recover from ransomware is to restore data from a backup. Backups bypass the ransom demand by restoring data from a source other than the encrypted files.  
  3. Network segmentation: Network segmentation involves dividing a computer network into smaller subnetworks or segments. Each segment is isolated from the others, and access between segments is restricted based on specific security policies. This approach helps contain the spread of malware, including ransomware, in case a breach occurs within one segment.

Insider threat

Your team members are your strongest asset, but sometimes, they can be a risk too. Insider threats refer to cybersecurity risks that arise from individuals within an organization who have authorized access to its systems, data, or facilities. These insiders could be employees, contractors, business partners, or anyone else with legitimate access. Insider threats involve individuals who misuse their privileges intentionally or inadvertently to cause harm to the organization, its assets, or other individuals within the organization. 

Preventative strategies for insider threats 

Insider threats are particularly challenging to detect and prevent because insiders already have legitimate access to systems and data, making their actions less suspicious. Malicious insiders may have insider knowledge of the organization's security measures, making it easier for them to bypass traditional security controls. Preventing insider threats requires a multi-layered approach that includes: 

  1. Access controls: Implementing the principle of least privilege to limit access to sensitive data and systems only to individuals who need it for their roles.
  2. Enhance employee security awareness: Implementing comprehensive awareness training can effectively mitigate insider threats, promote security best practices, and deter negligent actions, safeguarding your organization against potential data breaches.
  3. Monitoring and auditing: Implementing monitoring and auditing tools to detect unusual or suspicious activities by insiders and promptly respond to potential threats.
  4. Strong incident response plan: Having a well-defined incident response plan that outlines steps to be taken in case of an insider threat incident to minimize its impact.  

Credential Theft 

Credential theft refers to the unauthorized acquisition of login credentials, such as usernames and passwords, by cyber attackers. It can occur through various methods, including phishing attacks, keyloggers, data breaches, and social engineering tactics. Once cybercriminals obtain valid credentials, they can impersonate legitimate users to gain unauthorized access to accounts, systems, or sensitive data. Risks of credential theft include data breaches, identity theft and reputational damage.  

Preventative strategies for credential theft  

Credential theft requires minimal effort for a skilled cybercriminal to pull off. Fortunately, keeping your company protected from such attacks is straightforward. We’ve made a list of tips you can follow to ensure that your company's passwords are protected.  

  1. Unique and strong passwords: Encourage users to create strong, unique passwords for each account. Avoid using easily guessable information like names or birthdates. Consider using password managers to generate and store complex passwords securely. 
  2. Regular security assessments: Conduct regular security assessments and penetration tests to identify vulnerabilities and address potential credential theft risks.
  3. Continuous security awareness training: Maintain an ongoing cybersecurity awareness program to keep employees updated on the latest threats and security best practices.

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Protect yourself from data breaches  

Data breaches can have dire consequences for your business, from financial losses to damaged reputation. By familiarizing yourself with the various types of data breaches and adopting proactive preventive measures, you can strengthen your organization's resilience against cyber threats. Invest in cybersecurity education, awareness training and phishing training to safeguard your valuable data and maintain the trust of your customers and stakeholders.