What is a Data Breach and How Does One Happen?

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It’s every company’s worst nightmare, particularly in these times of POPI and GDPR. You do everything that you can to ensure that your systems are secure, that the data you store is protected, but you’ve been hit by a data breach.

But what is a data breach exactly? What does it mean for your business? And is there anything that you can do to prevent it from happening again?

Let’s start with the basics.

What is a Data Breach?

The first questions that many businesses ask us are: “What is a data leak or data breach?”, “What is a personal data breach” or “What is a data breach definition?”

A data breach or leak means that your data has been accessed by an unauthorised person or shared in a way that it shouldn’t have been. Sometimes it’s both. The data involved could be intellectual property, trade secrets, personal information about your staff or clientele, or even confidential financial information. 

Wikipedia sums it up neatly by defining a data breach as “the intentional or unintentional release of secure or private/confidential information to an untrusted environment.”

While this definition is useful, it can also be slightly misleading. “An untrusted environment” implies a large-scale leak, and while these certainly do occur, they are not the only way your data can be breached. Even a single employee sharing confidential information with the wrong person would classify as a data leak.

The danger that the data breach poses to your business will be dependent on the type of leak that has occurred, and how widely the information is able to spread.

How Does a Data Breach Happen?

Now that we’ve answered the question of “what is a data breach”, it’s important to understand how they can occur. There are a number of ways that a business’ data can be breached, and the danger that the breach poses is directly related to how the information was leaked.

  1. An Accidental Inside Job
    It can be easy for your employees to accidentally share information that they shouldn’t. An email could be sent to the wrong person, a file can be clicked that they shouldn’t have access to, or they could share something with friend or family member that they didn’t realise was confidential in the first place.

    These kinds of accidents happen all the time. And while they are data breaches, the impact that an accidental breach like this can have on your company is limited. Training your teams in email security and ways to avoid these accidental leaks will see them occurring less often.

  2. An Intentional Inside Job
    Accidents happen and can be excused, but when an employee intentionally shares company information, it’s another story altogether. Malicious employees are dangerous to any business, and when it comes to data breaches, the access that they have to your company’s information can have a very serious impact.

    Maintaining strong Identity and Access Management rules will help to curb the influence that malicious employees (and ex-employees) can have on your data. By limiting the information that employees have access to and ensuring that they are only able to see the data relevant to their jobs, you will be able to reduce the likelihood of critical information being leaked.

  3. Lost or Stolen Devices
    Computers, laptops, cellphones and hard drives are used daily within businesses to store and access data that is critical to operations. Any one of these devices going missing could be the catalyst for a major data leak if they are not properly secured. Take, for example, a cellphone without a password or an external hard drive which contains unencrypted information. If the device is stolen, the thief could suddenly have access to a wide range of passwords and apps via the phone, or critical information through the hard drive.

    This is where the importance of Advanced Threat Protection lies. Ensuring that your company data is stored on the cloud, and that employees use Multi-Factor Authentication to access it, will reduce the risk of a data breach occurring when a device is stolen.

  4. Cyberattacks
    So far, the data breaches that we’ve looked at have largely been internal – employees accidentally or maliciously sharing company information, or their devices being stolen. But one of the biggest causes of data breaches, and the cause of the most significant ones, are cybercriminals.

    Attackers are constantly looking for new ways to exploit software and hardware vulnerabilities and gain access to critical or personal data. This way they can ransom the information that they gain for personal profit, or can cause untold damage by corrupting or sharing data online. The impact for businesses can be enormous, resulting in millions of dollars in fines and damages. And that’s not even taking into consideration the implications for their reputation.

How Can You Avoid a Data Breach?

We’ve answered the question of “What is a data breach?” and have looked at the different ways that data can be leaked. The question that remains is how can companies prevent cybercriminals, and even their own employees, from breaching their data, and reduce the impact that data leaks can have on their business? 

One important step to take is ensuring that your critical data is backed up to the cloud, and having a disaster recovery plan in place. This will ensure that even if a data breach does occur, your information cannot be held ransom, and your business operations will be able to continue uninterrupted.

Having an IT company by your side with vast experience in security and threat protection will also be a huge asset. At Solid Systems, we’ve spent the past 18 years helping businesses to secure their critical information against both internal and external threats. Talk to us today about reducing your risk of data breach, and limiting the impact that a leak can have for your company.

Daniel Avinir

Daniel Avinir

Head of Client Success at Solid Systems |Virtual CIO I have a love and passion for people, their minds, technology, and nature.I believe in empowering people to work in increasingly flexible and productive ways, helping them unlock the collaboration potential and leading the cultural & technological change of our time.
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