How to Prevent Data Exfiltration?

How to Prevent Data Exfiltration

Data exfiltration refers to the act of taking confidential information out of an organization and into an outside network. This practice may be conducted either internally or externally by threat actors.

External attackers typically deploy malware onto endpoints to steal user credentials, intellectual property or company secrets before exfiltrating the information to remote servers for sale or release.

Internal Exfiltration

Data exfiltration (also known as data theft or malware extortion) occurs when hackers gain unauthorized access to an organization and remove information without authorisation, typically using email and hiding malicious files and links in legitimate emails as means for exfiltration. Once obtained, they may send it elsewhere either directly from their own servers or third-party accounts.

Data theft is a key component of ransomware attacks, in which hackers threaten to sell or release confidential company information unless payment is received from companies. Data can also be stolen for other illicit uses such as creating phishing scams or creating fake login pages to collect user credentials.

Unauthorized data transfer can be both expensive and damaging to a company’s reputation, yet not all hackers are criminals; some may be current or former employees with ulterior motives who want revenge against the organization they work for, or simply seeking quick profits for themselves.

Data exfiltration often happens through compromised devices and networks. Attackers can take data they obtain from company networks and transfer it external servers or personal devices like laptops and mobile phones using various techniques – for instance transferring it as plain text via email attachment or file share.

Other methods may involve exploiting authorized telecommunications infrastructure to transmit stolen data or exploiting social engineering techniques to do it. Attackers could send it directly to third-party servers or insecure private systems via outbound emails or SMS, or download it onto non-secure devices like USB drives for use accessing sensitive systems in the network or sensitive information stored elsewhere in the field.

Recognizing these types of attacks is difficult as many may appear similar to normal business activities. According to Verizon 2023 Data Breach Investigations Report, 90% of breaches involved exfiltration from insiders.

For optimal security in any environment, monitoring and controlling privileged access should be of primary concern. Make sure that users possess only those privileges required by their role and limit how long they spend working with data. One solution may be just-in-time privileged access management (JIT PAM), which grants temporary access to systems and resources during specific projects; log monitoring will notify security teams if there is suspicious behavior by those with elevated rights.

External Exfiltration

As any cybersecurity expert can attest, cyberattacks are inevitable; rather, the question is “when.” Unfortunately, even the most rigorous prevention efforts cannot ensure full protection from all threats; however, efforts can help lower risks and costs by decreasing attack vectors from which hackers gain entry and take advantage of data exfiltration risks in your company’s network and steal valuable information.

One of the more popular methods of data exfiltration involves downloading files to local infrastructure, such as laptops, USB drives, cameras or specialized equipment. Data may also be transferred via cloud services or third-party file-sharing websites.

Hacking techniques such as phishing and spoofing use malware to gain entry to compromised computers through hacking techniques like phishing. Once inside, these attacks use their malware to search through systems for valuable data that they then steal – often undetected by antivirus software and other security measures. These attacks are extremely effective; yet often go undetected.

Data exfiltration often occurs via data removal from secure networks and transmission over the internet, often through communication channels established between compromised systems and attacker’s command and control servers (C&C), usually known as C&C servers, over the internet. Hackers typically employ various strategies such as DNS tunneling and Dark Web to conceal these connections from being traced back.

Logging and monitoring solutions designed to keep track of activity in your network should include safeguards that detect unusual patterns of behavior as well as suspicious outbound connections such as sudden spikes in traffic or connections to unfamiliar IP addresses. It’s essential to remember that attackers constantly adapt their strategies in an attempt to stay one step ahead of defenders.

Insider threats are the leading source of data exfiltration – particularly for smaller businesses. Phishing allows bad actors to send infected links or files via email that when clicked can quickly spread throughout an organization’s network and infect devices quickly.

Social Engineering

Social engineering hackers employ human psychology and curiosity to access sensitive data, often masquerading as trusted coworkers requesting updates on proprietary projects or payment information for company credit cards or even as fake IT support representatives who claim they need access to your network. They may pose as trusted coworkers asking about certain issues relating to proprietary projects; request payment information related to company credit cards; or act as fake IT support representatives designed solely to gain entry. Scammers employ this tactic both via P2P sites like Peer-to-Peer as well as malicious websites accessible via search results or email attachments from emails or instant message chats or social networking sites.

Utilizing the information they have accumulated, attackers use social engineering techniques such as phishing to fool victims into divulging sensitive data or taking steps that lead to data exfiltration. Phishing is one of the most popular forms of social engineering; attackers send an email that mimics legitimate requests while also including links or malware attachments that allow attackers to quickly infect victims upon clicking them.

Pretexting is an increasingly popular technique where attackers pose as people they’ve interacted with previously, such as colleagues or family members, in order to collect personal information that will enable identity theft or other attacks. Another type of social engineering known as CEO fraud occurs when an impostor poses as the company CEO and asks employees to wire funds into an offshore account.

Physical breaches often arise from careless employees copying sensitive information onto USB sticks or thumb drives, using public Wi-Fi networks or losing work laptops. To protect against this risk, implement security policies which require all mobile devices be locked with strong passwords and locked. Also create a culture of risk awareness among all employees so they understand how to spot an attack, for instance by asking urgent sources for verification before transferring funds or disclosing information. Together these preventative measures and robust recovery systems can minimize legal, financial, and reputational consequences caused by data exfiltration.

Physical Exfiltration

Data extrusion or “exfiltration”, more commonly referred to as data theft, involves sending sensitive information out of an organization’s secure network voluntarily or automatically through malicious programming on networks. As one of the most severe types of security breaches, extrusion has the potential to lead to both financial loss and erosion in trust between your customers and you and your business.

The primary risk associated with this breach type is its difficulty in being detected until it’s too late. Hackers may transfer files without being noticed for months, building up a stockpile of confidential client records, planning documents, image files and source code that includes confidential material such as confidential client data.

Malware attacks targeting internal devices are one of the primary forms of cyber attacks. Once inside, malware will begin searching for sensitive information to download and send to an external server for sale or distribution.

Insider threats are one of the leading causes of data breaches. Employees could either accidentally or purposely exfiltrate data by copying it onto an insecure device such as their personal laptop, USB drive or camera – this can even happen if using unsecure Wi-Fi networks or accessing work-related material through personal social media channels.

Insider threats can also occur through malicious software like ransomware that’s introduced into a company network by employees. Once it infiltrates, this malware searches for and downloads sensitive data from various devices within an organization before exfiltrating it to an external server.

Effective ways of mitigating risk include installing robust access controls, providing employee education on cyberattacks and reminding them not to open suspicious attachments and links from emails, and monitoring user activity. With remote working and cloud collaboration tools becoming more prevalent than ever, your team may be exposed to even greater danger, so training them on basic digital risk management concepts and how to recognize warning signs may be key to protecting them from potential attacks.

Mark Funk
Mark Funk is an experienced information security specialist who works with enterprises to mature and improve their enterprise security programs. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter.