Personal and business data breaches are on the rise. According to the FBI’s 2022 Internet Crime Report, the potential total loss of personal data breaches passed $10 billion in 2022, with more than 800,000 cybersecurity and cyber-enabled fraud complaints received by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
The result is a rapidly evolving cybersecurity landscape that requires companies and individuals to take action before data breaches occur. In this piece, we’ll break down data breach basics, address current challenges in data protection, examine the potential impacts of business and personal data breaches, and offer seven ways to support a safety-first approach to data.
Data Breach Basics
A data breach occurs when cybercriminals compromise personal or business information and then steal, ransom or destroy this data.
For businesses, data breaches often occur when attackers get their hands on employee account credentials or find network weaknesses that make companies vulnerable. Individuals, meanwhile, may be compromised via applications with existing security flaws. They may also find themselves the target of attackers if they click on malicious email links or end up on spoofed websites.
While business and personal data offers different value for attackers, both are now being targeted by malicious actors. In the case of businesses, cybercriminals may go after financial data or intellectual property, which they can then sell to competitors or destroy unless a ransom is paid. When it comes to personal data, attackers may leverage stolen information to commit identity theft.
Common Data Breach Methods
Attackers aren’t picky about their method of compromise. Instead, they’re more concerned about the results: If they gain access, attacks are a success. As a result, hackers often use a combination of new and old attack methods to increase their overall chance of carrying out a data breach.
Some of the most common data breach methods include:
In a phishing attack, hackers create legitimate-looking emails that contain malicious links or attachments. If users click on links or open attachments, malicious code is installed that may attempt to encrypt data or steal information.
Ransomware is a type of malware that allows attackers to encrypt key data, then demand payment for its release. If victims don’t pay quickly enough, cybercriminals destroy the information.
Zero-day attacks use exploits or vulnerabilities that haven’t yet been discovered and patched by security professionals, creating potential security holes.
Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks flood networks with resource and access requests, in turn overwhelming them and causing reduced performance or total failure. These attacks are often used as distractions for other compromise methods, such as ransomware.
Potential Impacts of a Data Breach
Data breaches may cause both immediate and long-term impacts. When data breaches begin, users often lose some or all access to their devices. For example, in the case of ransomware, attackers prevent users from accessing key applications and services until ransoms are paid. Users may also find themselves locked out of services including email accounts, financial services or business applications.
As these breaches unfold, business teams must work to prevent attacks from spreading to other parts of company networks. For example, if criminals gained access via a third-party application, IT teams will attempt to pinpoint where the data breach began and cut off any access routes to critical systems.
The biggest impacts of a data breach, however, often occur after the initial compromise has been detected and eliminated. For individuals, the loss of personal data opens them up to identity theft and financial fraud; attackers may use their data to sign up for credit cards, create fake tax profiles or attempt to access online financial services. This identity theft may go unnoticed for weeks or months, until notices of missed payment or credit defaults begin arriving in the mail.
For businesses, data breaches can lead to revenue loss, reputation damage and legal repercussions. If attackers can compromise key systems, companies may be forced to halt operations until the issue is fixed. Customers, meanwhile, may not feel safe trusting their data to businesses that have been breached. Finally, businesses may face legal challenges linked to regulatory failures or lacking security controls.
Seven Ways to Keep Data Safe
The risk of data breaches is on the rise, but it’s not all bad news. Here are seven ways to help keep data safe.
1. Use Strong Passwords
One of the simplest ways to keep data safe is by using strong passwords and regularly updating these passwords. Strong passwords are at least 8 characters long and include at least one number and one special character along with letters.
2. Regularly Update Software
Software and applications are regularly patched to address zero-day threats. As a result, it’s worth scheduling software updates to help keep data protected.
3. Monitor for Suspicious Activity
Even small warning signs can help detect attacks in their early stages. These signs include slow response times or strange errors when attempting to log in.
4. Use a VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) hides sensitive information such as what data is being accessed, where and when. Using a VPN can help frustrate attacker efforts, especially when combined with strong data encryption that makes data unusable even if attackers gain access.
5. Install Security Software
Security software tools such as antivirus and antimalware applications can automatically scan for and detect attacks in progress or the early indicators of these attacks.
6. Implement MFA
Multifactor authentication (MFA), which includes the use of one-time passcodes or biometric data such as fingerprints to verify users, helps prevent attackers from gaining access even if they compromise usernames and passwords.
7. Get Help
Businesses are especially vulnerable to attacks as their IT resources grow, but security doesn’t keep pace. Managed IT services for nonprofits, finance firms, healthcare, manufacturing and many other industries are now available to help companies keep data safe.
Safe and Sound
There’s no silver bullet to stop every breach, no perfect protection for attacks that come your way. With the right approach, however, it’s possible to significantly lower your chances of compromise.
This approach starts with an understanding of common attack methods and how they could impact both personal and business devices. Next is a recognition of consequences: What could happen if attackers manage to compromise network perimeters or access personal data? Action follows: Identifying and implementing best practices that can help reduce total risk.