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How data breaches happen

From small businesses to large corporations, no organisation is immune to the threat of a data breach. In 2021-2022, more than 80% of UK organisations experienced a successful attack.

Hackers are constantly finding new ways to infiltrate systems and steal sensitive information, causing significant financial and reputational damage. To protect your business from such attacks, it is crucial to understand how data breaches happen so you can manage a data breach if it happens and prevent future attacks.

Definition of a data breach

A data breach occurs when someone gains unauthorised access to confidential, sensitive, or personal information. This can result in files being viewed or shared without permission and used for financial gain. It’s important to note that everyone, from individuals to large organisations and governments, is vulnerable to data breaches.

Usually, data breaches occur due to weaknesses in either technology or user behaviour. As technology advances, our devices are becoming more interconnected, which also means more opportunities for data breaches. The pace of technological innovation is outstripping our ability to safeguard against cyber threats. A good example of this is the Internet of Things (IoT). Many ‘smart’ home products are vulnerable to hacking due to security flaws such as a lack of encryption.

Types of data breaches

Cyberattacks occur when individuals or groups exploit security vulnerabilities within technology to access and compromise confidential information. This type of data breach is prevalent, accounting for the majority of reported attacks.

Data breaches can be categorised into several types. The most common types of data breaches include:

1. Hacking

Hacking is when a cybercriminal gains unauthorised access to a system or network by exploiting vulnerabilities in the software or hardware. Hackers can use a variety of techniques to gain access, such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and brute force attacks.

2. Malware

Malware is malicious software that is designed to infiltrate a system and cause harm. Examples of malware include viruses, spyware, and ransomware. Malware can be spread through email attachments, infected websites, and malicious software downloads.

3. Social engineering

Social engineering is when a cybercriminal uses psychological manipulation to trick individuals into divulging sensitive information or performing an action that is detrimental to the organisation. Examples of social engineering attacks include phishing, spear phishing, and pretexting.

How do data breaches occur?

It is often assumed data breaches happen due to external hackers, but that is not always the case. Data breaches can also occur due to unintentional errors or weaknesses in a company’s system.

Here’s how a data breach can happen:

  • Accidental insider: refers to a situation where an employee unintentionally gains access to confidential files on a co-worker’s computer without proper authorization. Although the access is unintentional, the employee reads the files but does not share any of the information.
  • Malicious insider: refers to a person who intentionally gains access to confidential data and shares it with the purpose of harming an individual or organisation. This individual may have legal permission to access the information, but they intend to use it for harmful purposes.
  • Malicious threat actors: individuals or groups who utilise different methods to breach security measures and acquire data from a network or an individual.
  • Lost or stolen devices: missing laptops or external hard drives that are not encrypted or locked and contain confidential data.

A data breach typically involves several stages, including:

  1. Reconnaissance

During the reconnaissance phase, the hacker gathers information about the target organisation. This can include information about the network topology, employee usernames and passwords, and the software and hardware used by the organisation.

  1. Exploitation

Once the hacker has gathered enough information, they will attempt to exploit vulnerabilities in the system or network to gain access. This can be done through a variety of techniques, such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and brute force attacks.

  1. Elevation of privilege

After gaining access, the hacker will attempt to elevate their privileges to gain administrative access to the system or network. This can be done by exploiting vulnerabilities in the software or hardware or by using social engineering techniques to trick employees into granting access.

  1. Data exfiltration

Once the hacker has administrative access to the system or network, they will attempt to exfiltrate sensitive data. This can be done through a variety of techniques, such as copying files to an external device or sending data to a remote server.

  1. Covering tracks

Finally, the hacker will attempt to cover their tracks by deleting logs and other evidence of their presence on the system or network. This can make it difficult for the organisation to detect the breach and prevent future attacks.

Protect your business from data breaches with Intelliworx

Data breaches are a serious threat to organisations of all sizes, leading to major financial losses, reputational damage, and legal consequences. Take steps to prevent your business from becoming a victim of data breaches with the security experts at Intelliworx. They can ensure your organisation has the right data protection and cybersecurity awareness in place to keep your valuable data safe and secure in an ever-evolving threat landscape.

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