What is Data Breach and How to Prevent It?

By Haseeb Awan

Your IT department says that they believe the company's database of employee social security numbers was hacked. They also believe the online credit card payment system has been compromised. HR might report that a dissatisfied employee just walked out with hundreds of social security numbers and sold them on the black market.

The FBI sometimes contacts a business to advise them that they are under attack. When this happens, there is a lot of confusion, and everyone tries to figure out what information was taken and who gained access. No amount of exercise can prepare a firm for all potential scenarios because each breach is distinct.

Then there's the problematic question of complying with legal responsibilities. Do we have to notify authorities under a variety of data breach notification laws? Who should we notify? How quickly? What should the notice contain? After the warning goes out, what is our potential exposure? And, in the event of a breach, the inevitable inquiry: "did we do all that we could have to stop it?"

The answers to these questions might be tricky. This guide is intended to fill a significant gap in the literature and serve as a valuable tool for managing data breaches. Before the breach occurs, this book will assist you in understanding breach notification rules to have a clear strategy. And, if the statistics are correct, the breach will happen. This book offers an in-depth look at where we are now and how to prepare for the future based on current debates about data breach laws.

What is a Data Breach?

A data breach is unauthorized access or disclosure of sensitive, confidential, or protected data.

By understanding what a data breach is, the information that can be affected, and how breaches occur, you'll be better prepared to prevent one from happening in your organization. A data breach is unauthorized access or disclosure of personal or private information in which there has been a violation of confidentiality or integrity on the part of someone who controls it. It also includes theft through hacking (hacking) and natural disasters like floods and fires.

Any of these potentially equally sensitive data discovered to be accessible to unauthorized parties constitutes a data breach. Data breaches can harm a company's reputation, as well as issues with compliance with laws and industry norms.

Data Breach Statistics

According to the 2019 Breach Level Index report, over 7.9 billion data records were exposed in data breaches last year. That's an increase of 33.8% from the previous year. The report also found that there were 4,244 data breaches last year, which is an increase of 11.7% from 2018.

In 2020, the data breach that occurred most frequently was due to malicious or criminal activity, comprising 62.4% of all breaches. The second-most common reason for a data breach was accidental leaks, making up 19.2% of total incidents

The healthcare industry had the highest data breaches last year, with 1,244 breaches. That's an increase of 9.3% from 2018. The second highest data breaches were in the government and military sectors, with 864 breaches. That's an increase of 36.5% from 2018.Last year's average cost of a data breach was $3.92 million, an increase of 1.6% from 2018. The average cost per data record exposed in a breach last year was $148, which is an increase of 4.8% from 2018.

Last year's most extensive data breach was the Marriott breach, which exposed over 383 million records. The second largest data breach was the Facebook breach, which exposed over 50 million records.

These data breaches have had a significant impact on people's lives. In the Marriott breach, for example, the personal information of over 383 million people was exposed, including their names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, passport numbers, and credit card information. The breached data included over 5.2 million unencrypted passport numbers and over 20 million encrypted credit card numbers.

The data breaches have also had a major financial impact on the companies involved. The Marriott breach, for example, is expected to cost the company over $600 million in fines and legal fees. The Facebook breach is expected to cost the company over $5 billion in fines and legal fees.

Data breaches are becoming more common and more costly. Companies must be prepared to secure data by preventing, detecting and responding to data breaches. They also need to be prepared to deal with the financial and reputational damage that data breaches can cause.

The Future of Data Breaches and What You Can Do About It

There's no doubt that data breaches are becoming more and more common. But what does the future hold for these types of attacks

One thing is certain: the stakes are only going to get higher. As more and more businesses move their operations online, there will be more opportunities for hackers to exploit. We are already seeing the consequences of data breaches on our society, in everything from scams to politics. As we become increasingly reliant on technology, these effects will only grow more devastating.

So what can we expect in the future? Here are three trends to watch out for:

More Sophisticated Attacks

As hackers become more and more sophisticated, they'll be able to launch more sophisticated attacks. We're already seeing this with the rise of ransomware, a type of malware that encrypts a victim's files and demands a ransom for the decryption key.

More Targeted Attacks

Hackers will also become more adept at targeting specific organizations. This could be done by tailoring their attacks to exploit specific vulnerabilities or by using social engineering techniques to trick employees into revealing sensitive information.

Greater Impact

As data breaches become more common and damaging, businesses will start to feel the pinch. This could lead to increased regulation, higher insurance premiums, and a general loss of trust in the digital world.

Suppose companies, governments, and other organizations improve their cybersecurity by implementing practices like network access control and patching regularly. In that case, more attackers will have to use resource-intensive zero-day exploits to carry out data breaches in future.

Right now, there are still a lot of soft targets that attackers can easily exploit to create huge data breaches without expending much time or money. For example, running public internet scans could reveal devices and databases that have valuable info left unprotected.

The United States government needs to come up with a new system for Social Security numbers. The current string of digits are not effective in protecting people from fraud or identity theft. Requiring citizens and permanent residents to provide this same sequence of digits throughout their lives only makes the problem worse.

The United States should follow the example of other countries and create a universal identity scheme that uses multiple authenticators. With this system in place, even if one piece of information is compromised, people will still be able to protect their identities.

Although it would be best if data-holding companies and other institutions continuously invest in securing their systems, they often struggle to balance the costs, simplicity, and risks of doing so. And even if there were a perfect way to manage these three factors, no security scheme is ever truly foolproof. Therefore, the most effective way to minimize the damage from a large-scale breach is to reduce the number of incidents and learn how to handle recovery after one occurs better.

DPOs: An Integral Part Of Data Breach Response

Data Protection Officers (DPOs) play a vital role in data breach response. They are responsible for ensuring that an organization's data is protected and for developing and implementing plans to mitigate the risk of a data breach.

When a data breach occurs, DPOs are responsible for coordinating the organization's response. They work with other organization members, including the security team, to ensure that the data is recovered and that steps are taken to prevent future breaches.

DPOs also play a role in educating employees about data security and privacy. They work with the HR department to ensure that employees know the importance of protecting data and the consequences of violating data security policies.

In short, DPOs are the key to data breach response. Without a DPO, an organization is at a greater risk of suffering a data breach. With a DPO, an organization can better protect itself and its data.

There are several ways to find a DPO. The first step is to contact your local data protection authority. In the United States, this is the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC can provide you with information about data protection officers in your area.

Another way to find a DPO is to search for them online. There are a number of websites that allow you to search for DPOs by location.

Once you have found a few potential DPOs, you should contact them and ask for their CV. This will give you a better idea of their experience and qualifications.

When choosing a DPO, it is important to select someone who has experience in data security and privacy. The DPO should also be familiar with the organization's business processes.

It is also important to select a DPO who is a good communicator. The DPO will need to be able to communicate effectively with employees, managers, and other members of the organization.

How To Detect A Data Breach?

To know if your data has been breached, look out for these signs:

Unanticipated Changes to Critical Files

Data breaches happen in minutes, not decades. After gaining access to a system, hackers attempt to conceal their presence by changing, modifying, deleting, or overwriting system files. 

If your organization does not keep tabs on sensitive file changes, data breaches could go unnoticed for a very long time. The probability of critical file changes is high, especially for sizable organizations with complex IT infrastructures.

As cyberattacks become more complex, it is now critical to have IT professionals on staff invest in cutting-edge security tools and monitor the network 24/7 for any unusual file activity.

It is critical to immediately identify all discrepancies, who made the changes, when they were made, and why. Differentiating between typical and abnormal changes is key.

Problems with login and locked accounts

Words like "login issues" and "locked accounts" might make you think your personal information has been breached in a process called phishing. In this fraud, hackers access account details and could even take over the system. To prevent any further damage:

-Take appropriate measures if you think your account has been compromised 

-Ask your IT team to review changes in password or accessibility to the account  

-If needed, have them reset credentials

When you use multi-factor authentication, you're adding another layer of protection. This security system requires user validation across all accounts to avoid relying solely on passwords for device security.

Insufferably Slow Network Performance

If you experience a significant drop in your network speed, immediately run a scan. The slowdown may be caused by heavy file transfers outside the network, malware onboard, viruses, or suspicious outbound traffic. Because malware uses substantial bandwidth, other devices on the same network will slow down too. Antivirus programs can help identify and remove the cause of the slow internet connection. A sudden drop in performance may signal that someone is using your network for malicious activity. When hackers gain access to a system, they often use it to run processes or applications that slow down performance.

Alarming Evidence Of Device Tampering

If your device is still running even after you've shut it down, there may be evidence of physical tampering or remote access. In this case, do not enter any sensitive data like user login credentials or try to access highly secured areas of your system. If something seems off, address the issue as soon as possible.

Other signs that your device may have tampered with include suspicious browser toolbars, an influx of pop-up messages or fake antivirus warnings. Hackers use these tactics to provoke users into closing pop-up windows or giving them control of the computer so they can explore the network further. Do not continue using the device or attempt to fix the situation yourself; instead, contact your IT or cybersecurity team for guidance.

Suspicious Administrative User Activity

If you notice a privileged user's account has been breached, it likely indicates a data breach. Hackers will often try to establish themselves on the system and then either lock out the original user or move laterally to users with higher privileges. If you see suspicious activity, be sure to investigate it fully.

If you want to maintain your system's security, you must periodically review the account logs of users with admin privileges. Check who viewed what confidential information and see if anyone made changes to permission settings. With more people working remotely because of the pandemic, it's important to remind your staff to be vigilant against suspicious activity.

Suspicious System Activity

Freezing and frequently crashing on your computer or software applications might be due to malware infection or viruses that monitor your device, corrupt files, and use up system resources. Pop-up messages or new browser add-ons are other indications of unusual system behavior. Users whose computers are infected with malware may observe their cursor move inexplicably.

How To Prevent Data Breaches?

Data breaches can occur when least expected and often have disastrous consequences. To help prevent data breaches, here are some best practices:

1. Know where your sensitive data is stored and who has access to it.

2. Encrypt all sensitive data, both at rest and in transit.

3. Use strong authentication methods, such as two-factor authentication, for accessing sensitive data.

4. Implement access control measures to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data.

5. Regularly monitor activity on systems and networks that contain sensitive data.

6. Keep systems and software up-to-date with the latest security patches.

7. Perform regular backups of sensitive data to minimize data loss in the event of a breach.

8. Have a plan to respond to a data breach, should one occur.Follow these best practices to help prevent data breaches and protect your organization's sensitive data.

Tips For Data Breach Recovery

As soon as a data breach is discovered, it's critical to take quick action to recover any lost data and prevent future breaches. The following procedures can help guide you through the process:

1. Locate and identify systems or networks that have been damaged. Data breach management tools can help establish the size of a data breach and keep affected systems separate from operational infrastructure. These solutions also prevent further damage by bad actors through assessment and isolation, which might result in more information being taken advantage of otherwise.

2. Conduct an in-depth risk analysis of the situation. Any additional risks for users or systems that may still exist in this stage should be noted. Backdoors, as well as compromised accounts of both users and systems, are examples of secondary risks. To determine what occurred, forensic tools and specialists can examine hardware and software.

3. After determining the extent of the security breach, you'll need to take steps to restore and rebuild any damaged systems. The usage of clean backups or fresh hardware/software is one option. In addition, this procedure includes applying security patches or workarounds to close any flaws identified during the risk assessment.

4. The last step is to keep everyone in the loop about what happened and how it'll impact them, data-wise. This changes based on what type of information was taken. However, it frequently includes the following: the legal departments of employees, partners, customers, credit card companies, and financial institutions are at risk for cyberattacks. 

5. To mitigate this risk, many organizations purchase cyber risk insurance. After a data breach, it's important to document what happened and why. This understanding will help preserve the incident for future reference and prevent similar mistakes from happening again.

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