Data Leaks

To put it bluntly, witnessing a data leak is a pain.

A data breach is inconvenient for both you and your clients. That’s because even a minor data breach is a major source of concern for every business. It can cost your business a lot of money, damage your reputation and brand, and enrage your customers. Simply put, revealing consumers’ personal and financial data is a nightmare, resulting in anything from financial losses to identity theft.

Data leakage is a concept used in computer security to describe when confidential or classified information “leaks” to the outside world. This means that data is passed to someone or anywhere outside the company, either deliberately or accidentally. However, the word “data leak” is not used in the same way by anyone in the cyber security industry. Some people confuse data leaks and data breaches, whereas others separate the two words based on the intention(s) or action(s) associated with their occurrences.

So, what exactly is data leakage, after all of this? What is the root of the problem? What data leakage detection techniques are available to assist you in preventing data leakage before it occurs?

Data Leakage vs Data Breaches: What’s the Difference?

Some firms, such as Imperva, interchange the words “data leak” and “data breach.” A breach is described by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) as:

“The loss of control, compromise, unauthorized disclosure, unauthorized acquisition, or any similar occurrence where (1) a person other than an authorized user accesses or potentially accesses personally identifiable information (PII) or (2) an authorized user accesses or potentially accesses PII for an other than authorized purpose. It includes both intrusions (from outside the organization) and misuse (from within the organization).”

Others distinguish data that is exposed due to an internal source of process (data leak) from data that is exposed due to an external source or danger (data breach). Data leakage, for example, is described as “low and slow data theft” or “the unauthorised transfer of data from within an entity to an external destination or receiver,” according to Forcepoint. Leakage can happen across a variety of channels, including the web, email, and endpoint technologies like mobile data storage devices and laptops.

Whatever method you use to detect an information breach, the bottom line is that a data breach is bad news for both the company and your customers.

The 5 Most Common Causes of Data Leakage Situations

If you want to protect your business from data breaches, you must first comprehend some of the underlying causes. Data leakage can be caused by a number of reasons, but almost all of them have one thing in common: people. People are not infallible, which is unsurprising. We can be careless and reckless, and we can also make mistakes.

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At the end of the day, we’re all susceptible to make errors. That’s because we’re not mindless drones who just do as we’re told — we have free will to make our own choices. On one hand, those decisions might include doing the right thing, being thorough and verifying facts before acting, and so on. In the other hand, certain people want to do harm to others on purpose (by stealing or releasing company information or data). This may be because they have sinister motives or feel they are behaving in the best interests of a greater cause.

Finally, people can either be the organization’s greatest strength or its greatest weakness. It all comes down to how they want to act and apply themselves in the end.

So, how can data breaches happen with all of this in mind? The following are a few of the most common causes of data leakage (in no particular order):

Weak Passwords

It’s in our nature to want things to be as easy as possible. Using super easy-to-remember passwords, using default passwords, and exchanging passwords across different accounts are all examples of this. Although these practises help users remember their passwords, they also make it easy for outside parties to guess or break them using brute force attacks.

According to CNN, the top ten most widely used passwords are:

  1. 123456
  2. 123456789
  3. qwerty
  4. password
  5. 111111
  6. 12345678
  7. abc123
  8. 1234567
  9. Password1
  10. 12345

Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks, whether carried out via email or phishing websites, are a major source of data leaks for businesses all over the world. They’ve had a lot of success. This is because actors use social engineering techniques to persuade or trick users into providing their login credentials through a form on a malicious website or downloading a malicious file that steals their data.

Phishing is a major problem and a cause of data leakage, regardless of how it occurs.

Hacking and Web Application-Related Cyber Attacks

When a hacker or cybercriminal gains access to a device or machine, it is called a cyberattack. Cyberattacks come in a wide range of flavours, from straight-up hacking to SQL injections and man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks.

Human Error and Negligence

Have you ever sent a sensitive email to the wrong person by mistake? You’re not alone, to be sure. “Nearly half of workers (45 percent) have unintentionally exchanged emails containing bank details, personal information, confidential text, or an attachment with unintended recipients,” according to Clearswift, a HelpSystems Company and data loss prevention solution provider. Many data breaches occur as a result of workers and contractors not being as vigilant as they should be when handling confidential information and data.

Between July 2018 and April 2019, according to a 2019 IBM/Ponemon Institute data breach survey, “[…] inadvertent breaches from human error and device bugs were still the cause for nearly half (49%) of the data breaches in the research, costing businesses $3.50 and $3.24 million respectively.”

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Insider Threats

No one wants to see their present or former coworkers and staff in a negative light. But the fact is that certain people are just bad apples. Or, at the very least, they want to do wrong. Another big threat to the protection of your data and a possible source of data leakage is a malicious insider. In fact, according to IBM and the Ponemon Institute’s 2018 Cost of a Data Breach report, malicious insiders were the single most common cause of data breaches.

As you can see, data breaches can be caused by a number of factors. So, what would you do as a business owner to protect your company from these types of threats?

Data Leakage Prevention: How to Prevent Data Leakage Before It Occurs

There are many things you and your company can do, both personally and professionally, to stop a possible data leakage situation in its tracks. Here are a few options to consider:

Identify All Critical Data and Develop Strategies for Protecting Them

You can’t secure the unknown. This means that in order to secure your company’s data, you must first understand what you’re protecting and where it’s being processed and used. To do so, you’ll need to build and manage a database inventory, as well as a list of all the various types of data the company collects, processes, and/or uses.

Identify All Endpoint Devices, Hardware and Structure Connected to Your Network

You should inventory all of the types of data you collect, process, and use, just as you should inventory all of your IT infrastructure — all hardware, software, and so on. You will ensure that you are aware of anything that affects your network this way. Hackers can gain access to your network and navigate to whatever systems they want with only one unpatched laptop or even an unreliable IoT computer.

Develop, Set, and Enforce Security Policies

While no one I know loves establishing user access restrictions or enforcing security policies, that doesn’t mean they aren’t necessary. Through designing and enforcing system usage policies, for example, you’re providing the rules and requirements for how everybody — workers and contractors alike — can use your company’s tools safely. Users must adhere to safe data protection and security protocols, according to these policies.

Having such a policy in place often prevents you in the event that an employee or contractor who uses the computer in an unacceptable manner creates a leak or a breach.

Limit User Access

Limiting users’ access to only the systems they need to conduct their duties (rather than whatever system they choose to access) will help limit your future exposure if anything goes wrong. Don’t give Arlene in accounting access to the IT admin console, and don’t give the intern access to personnel databases. Both of these levels of unwarranted user access are needless, and they open the door to a Pandora’s box if those individuals’ credentials are compromised. Why take the chance?

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Implement Challenging Password Creation Requirements

Employees should not be able to be slackers. Make it a necessity for them to create difficult, one-of-a-kind passwords for your company’s accounts. Capitalizations, numbers, and icons — let your end users use a brilliant combination of these stuff in their passwords to optimise the amount of real estate available on your keyword.

Require Employees to Use VPNs When Connecting via External Networks

If you or your workers need to access the internet or company services from outside your network, you should enable them to use a virtual private network (VPN). Ensure that their communications are safe while they’re away from the workplace, whether it’s logging in to check their email at a coffee shop or engaging in the virtual conference while at the airport.

Use Reputable Data Leakage Prevention Tools

The new high-tech environment provides a wide variety of options to match almost every budget. But what should you be on the lookout for? Here are some of the things you’ll want to safeguard (along with some ideas that can assist you):

  • Network — analysing traffic and operation with network firewalls, network behaviour and anomaly detection systems (NBADs), and network-based intrusion detection systems/intrusion prevention systems (IDS/IPS).
  • Hardware and software — Keeping your devices up to date with frequent upgrades and patching is another effective way to protect your business from data leakage accidents. Physical security measures should also be in place to avoid unauthorised access to the physical IT infrastructure. Holding such equipment in a locked room, giving only certain users access to that space, and utilising security monitoring are examples of these safeguards.
  • Antivirus and anti-malware solutions, endpoint encryption, host-based intrusion security systems (HDSs), restricting user access, managing IP addresses through subnetting, using virtual local area networks (VLANs), and configuring demilitarised zones are all examples of endpoint device protection and isolation (DMZs).
  • There’s a data protection and security solution to suit your needs, whether you’re trying to secure data at rest, data in transit, or data in use:
  • Database encryption and the use of S/MIME certificates to secure your email are examples of data at rest.
  • Data in transit — stable, encrypted transactions can be allowed by using SSL/TLS certificates on your web and email servers.
  • Data in use — which involves the use of homomorphic encryption and other encryption methods.

Teach Employees to Take Their Time When Sending Emails and Uploading Data to the Cloud

This may seem self-evident, but rushing through the process and failing to double-check details and fields is a surefire way to make a mistake. This is why it’s important for you and your staff to double-check that you’ve crossed all of your Is and dot all of your Ts. When sending an update, remember to:

  • double-check the “to,” “CC” and “BC” fields.
  • make sure you don’t “reply all” when responding to an email (unless you intend to do so).
  • ensure you’ve attached the right document or file.
  • double-check the sender before you replay to any email.

In other words: Don’t rush. It’s not a race.

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Jennifer Thomas is the Co-founder and Chief Business Development Officer at Cybers Guards. Prior to that, She was responsible for leading its Cyber Security Practice and Cyber Security Operations Center, which provided managed security services.