Data breaches can change the course of your life.
If sensitive personal or business information falls into the wrong hands, there’s no telling what a criminal might do. Hackers are just as at home using Bluetooth or messaging services to get into a computer network as they are an internet connection.
And make no mistake: a single weakness can lead to a colossal data breach. Disaster recovery services might soften the blow by retrieving lost data. But a big concern remains. The hacker can still use any stolen information to carry out all sorts of crimes. That said, if you know how a hacker thinks, you can take steps to stop them in their tracks.
That’s the purpose of today’s article: to show you where potential weaknesses lie so that you can plug the gaps — but first, let’s start by answering a key question.
What Is A Data Breach?
A data breach is when an unauthorized person manages to access sensitive, confidential or protected information.
The uninvited guest may browse. They may save a copy of what they find. They may just put the information online for anyone to access. But whatever the outcome, the result is the same: any data breach puts you and your organization at significant risk — while there are two typical causes of a breach:
- Technology: where a hacker exploits a weakness in hardware or software.
- User Behavior: where a hacker targets and exploits an individual user.
But knowing where breaches happen only helps so much. To become cyber secure, you need to understand how hackers find weaknesses in your network in the first place.
Let’s cover that next.
4 Sources Of A Data Breach
If you assume a data breach only comes from external sources, you’re only half right. In reality, there are potential weak links inside your organization as well.
Here’s what we mean:
The ‘Accidental’ Insider
Sometimes, an employee can mistakenly read sensitive information. That’s to say: they may open a confidential file while borrowing a colleague’s device, seeing details they don’t have the right to see. Their action is unintentional and extremely low risk. Still, the fact the employee is ‘unauthorized’ means you should consider this a data breach.
The ‘Malicious’ Insider
If an employee purposefully accesses or shares information to harm a person or company, you have a malicious insider. Even if the employee has the authorization to see the data, their intent signifies a serious breach.
The ‘Malicious’ Outsider
Here’s the more common source of a data breach: the hacker who sits beyond your company walls. The malicious outsider is the kind of cybercriminal who uses sneaky techniques to gather data from your employees or IT network.
Stolen (or lost) Devices
While many breaches result from targeted hacks, some are opportunistic. Suppose an employee leaves an unlocked device on the subway or a thief steals an unencrypted iPhone. There’s a data breach waiting to happen.
Now you know the sources, let’s look at how hackers actually get to the data.
How Do Hackers Access Sensitive Data?
While the accidental insider doesn’t pose a threat, the others do.
Just think: what if someone with malicious intent got hold of personally identifiable information or intellectual property? Any criminal could use it to cause personal harm — or for financial gain. And these people know that, by targeting common weaknesses, they’ll eventually gain access to more valuable data, which is why they prey on:
Weak or Stolen Credentials
The majority of data breaches revolve around credentials. Why? Because if hackers can get hold of usernames and passwords, they have free reign to steal everything else. That’s why they often try to hack weak passwords or simply steal them. But no matter how they do it, once the cybercriminal has the username-password combo, they have an open door into the network in question.
Software typically uses authentication to stop unauthorized people from accessing data. However, if a cybercriminal plants malware, it can disable the authentication steps. That leaves your network unprotected, meaning the hacker can do what they please. And the same can happen with unpatched third-party apps: one weakness in a vendor system opens a gateway into your network.
If you allow employees to bring personal devices to work — or access your business network from their home office — you introduce another weakness that hackers love. Any home device or network is an easier target. That’s why hackers might first plant malware on an external laptop, as it could grant them access to work emails and files in time.
6 Steps To Avoid A Data Breach
Their frequency might suggest otherwise, but there are ways to prevent a breach. And prevention is always better than using disaster recovery services after a hack.
That said, prevention takes mass buy-in. Everyone who uses your IT network needs to help you avoid a breach. Because as we highlighted earlier, anyone is a potential source — be that through the accidental loss of a device or letting children loose on a work iPad.
But here are six simple steps to stop a breach from happening:
- Patch software often: always hit ‘Update’ when you receive an alert
- Upgrade devices: if a laptop doesn’t support the latest update, get a new one
- Use encryption where possible: keep sensitive data under lock and key
- Enforce strict security policies: ensure employees install the latest antivirus software (and use a VPN when working from home)
- Require unique passwords: don’t let one compromised password put your entire network at risk (and use multi-factor authentication wherever possible)
- Educate, educate, educate: security awareness is your best defense
If any of the above steps sound less than straightforward, please know you have plenty of IT support on-hand, so feel free to give Mid-Coast Tech a call at 207-236-0021.
We’re always around to offer friendly yet professional advice.