What Is A Data Breach? How To Avoid It

A data breach is an incident that exposes confidential or protected information. Your social security number, bank account or credit card information, personal health information, passwords, or email could all be lost or stolen in a data breach.

A data breach may occur accidentally or on purpose. A company with which you have shared personal information may have its database compromised by a cybercriminal. Or perhaps a worker at that company inadvertently posted your information online. In either case, criminals may gain access to your important personal information and use it to their advantage.

In recent years, data breaches have become increasingly common, with high-profile companies and organizations becoming victims of malicious attacks. It is, therefore, important to understand what a data breach is, how it can be prevented, and what to do in the case of a breach. This article will provide an overview of data breaches, including what they are, how they happen, and how to avoid them.

What Is A Data Breach? 

A data breach is a cyber attack in which sensitive, confidential or otherwise protected data has been accessed or disclosed in an unauthorized fashion. Any size organization, from small businesses to large corporations, is susceptible to data breaches. They could involve trade secrets, personally identifiable information (PII), personal health information (PHI), or other private data.

Personal information, such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, driver’s license info, and medical histories, as well as corporate information (like customer lists and source code) are frequently exposed in data breaches.

Any organization responsible for protecting personal data is said to have experienced a data breach if someone not authorized to do so views it or steals it completely.

Identity theft or a breach of industry or governmental compliance regulations may result from a data breach, and the offending organization may be subject to fines, legal action, reputational damage, or even lose its ability to conduct business.


How Do Data Breaches Happen? 

Data breaches can happen in a variety of ways, and it’s important to understand the different methods of attack that can be used to gain access to sensitive information. Some of the most common methods of data breaches include: 



It shouldn’t be a surprise that criminal hacking is the top cause of data breaches because it’s often necessary to conduct specific attacks. For instance, malicious software and SQL injection are typically only feasible if a criminal gains access to a company’s system.

The breadth of what constitutes criminal hacking may surprise you. Although it’s typically connected to computer programming, Verizon discovered that credentials theft was the most typical criminal hacking technique.

There is no technical expertise necessary for this. The credentials can be bought by criminals on the dark web, discovered written down, cracked using a password-generating device, or simply assumed, or even guessed (“password” being one of the most commonly used passwords on the internet).

Once a cybercriminal has access to a user’s login information, they can engage in any number of nefarious activities, but the majority of them revolve around information extraction in order to commit fraud, sell on the dark web, or launch additional attacks like phishing scams.

What is Hacking

Human Error

Breaches need not be the result of malicious behavior. According to research by Verizon, more than one out of every five incidents involved an employee error.1

Sensitive information was sent to the wrong person, most frequently in errors. This could entail addressing an email to the incorrect recipient, attaching the incorrect file, or giving a physical document to someone who shouldn’t have access to the data.

Misconfiguration, which typically entails leaving a database containing sensitive information online without any password restrictions, was the second most typical reason for human error.


Social Engineering

The practice of phishing, in which cybercriminals send malicious emails that appear legitimate, is probably already familiar to you, but attention should also be paid to the risk of financial pretexting.

Similar to phishing, pretexting involves contacting targets while acting inconspicuous in order to obtain their personal information (in this case, financial information specifically).

Pretexters, on the other hand, get in touch with victims by phone as well as email, and instead of creating a website that looks identical to that of a trustworthy organization, they merely ask the victim to send them their financial information. 

Once they possess that data, criminals can use it to commit fraud, sell it, or get in touch with a third party (like the victim’s bank or a supplier that the victim’s employer uses) to ask for information about their account history.

Read What Is Social Engineering In Cybersecurity? for additional insight.



Malware can be used by cybercriminals for a variety of reasons, but Verizon’s report highlights a few well-known types, such as RAM scrapers, which scan the memory of digital devices to gather sensitive data. Systems used at points of sale are particularly susceptible to RAM scraping.

The report also mentioned how common keyloggers are, which record keystrokes made on a keyboard. They are frequently employed to steal sensitive data, including passwords.


Unauthorized Use

This occurs primarily in two ways. The first is privilege abuse, in which workers abuse data to which they have been granted rightful access.

This isn’t always done with bad intentions. If the company doesn’t implement the proper access controls, the employee may have unintentionally come across the information.

Alternatively, the worker might have disregarded access regulations. This might take place, for instance, when an employee modifies a document improperly.

The second common type of privilege misuse is data mishandling. This occurs when sensitive information is copied, shared, accessed, stolen, or otherwise used by an employee who isn’t authorized to do so. 


Physical Actions

The majority of physical incidents involve the theft of documents or technology, including phones, laptops, and storage devices. Working from home or while traveling is becoming more and more popular among employees, but if they don’t monitor their belongings, an opportunistic thief could easily take them.

Card skimming is the other prevalent physical activity. In order to obtain the information from payment cards, thieves do this by putting a false cover over or inserting a device into card readers and ATMs.


What Are The Consequences Of Data Breaches? 

Revenue Loss

Significant revenue loss as a result of a security breach is common. A non-functional website, for example, may cause potential customers to explore other options. But any IT system downtime can lead to work disruptions.

Low revenue

Loss Of Intellectual Property

It can be disastrous to lose revenue and damage one’s reputation. Hackers, on the other hand, occasionally target blueprints, strategies, and designs as well.

Construction and manufacturing companies are more vulnerable to this threat. Smaller companies frequently think they won’t be impacted. But small businesses are the target of 60% of hacks.2 This is because it’s simpler to attack them.

Losing intellectual property may reduce your company’s ability to compete. Some competitors wouldn’t think twice about using stolen information to their advantage.


Damage To Brand Reputation

More than just your immediate financial situation can be affected by a security breach. Your brand’s long-term reputation is also in jeopardy.

You don’t necessarily want your emails to be leaked, for one. Most of the time, you need to keep these emails private.

Customers value their privacy as well, though, and breaches frequently involve payment information from customers. Prospective customers won’t be willing to put their trust in a company with a track record of lax data security.


Hidden Costs

The initial costs are only the surface level. There are also a lot of unintended expenses associated with breaches.

For instance, legal costs might be a factor. Along with increased costs for PR and investigations, there may also be increases in insurance premiums.

Another reality that many companies ignore is regulatory fines. As an illustration, the FCC fined AT&T $25 million in 2015.3 This came about as a result of a breach that exposed data pertaining to thousands of accounts.


The Biggest Data Breaches 

Data breaches have become increasingly common in recent years, with some of the largest companies in the world falling victim to malicious hackers and other cybercriminals. These breaches can have serious repercussions, both for the companies affected and their customers. Here, we take a look at some of the biggest data breaches of all time. 



One of the biggest and most significant data breaches in recorded history was the Equifax breach. In 2017, names, social security numbers, and birthdates belonging to 147 million customers were made public. The breach was made possible by a flaw in the company’s website that gave hackers access to the systems of the company. The breach cost the company over $1 billion in legal fees and other expenses, and the company was compelled to make settlement payments to affected customers totaling millions of dollars.



One of the most devastating data breaches in history happened to Yahoo in 2013. The company’s systems were breached by hackers, exposing the personal data of over 3 billion customers. Names, email addresses, phone numbers, passwords, and birthdates were exposed in the breach. Yahoo was forced to pay out millions of dollars in settlements to affected customers as a result of the breach, costing the company an estimated $350 million in legal fees and other expenses.



A significant data breach at eBay in 2014 resulted in the exposure of 145 million customers’ personal data. Names, email addresses, passwords, and physical addresses were all compromised. The breach was made possible by a flaw in the company’s website that gave hackers access to the systems of the company. The breach forced eBay to pay affected customers millions of dollars in settlements, costing the company an estimated $200 million in legal fees and other expenses.



In 2013, Adobe experienced a data breach that resulted in the exposure of over 152 million customers’ personal data. Names, email addresses, passwords, and credit card numbers were all compromised. The breach was made possible by a flaw in the company’s website that gave hackers access to the systems of the company. 

Adobe had to pay out millions of dollars in settlements to affected customers as a result of the breach, costing the company an estimated $1.1 billion in legal fees and other expenses.



Over 77 million customers’ personal data were exposed by Sony in 2011 due to a significant data breach. Names, email addresses, passwords, and physical addresses were all compromised. The breach was made possible by a flaw in the company’s website that gave hackers access to the systems of the company. Sony was forced to pay out millions of dollars in settlements to affected customers as a result of the breach, costing the company an estimated $171 million in legal fees and other expenses.


How Can I Prevent Data Breaches?

Data breaches can have serious consequences, both financially and in terms of reputation, so it’s important to have a plan in place to prevent them from occurring. Here are some steps you can take to protect your data and prevent a data breach:


Implement Strong Access Controls

Access controls are the foundation of data security. Make sure you have strong passwords in place, and consider using two-factor authentication for added security. Also, ensure that only authorized personnel have access to sensitive data.

Access Controls

Conduct Employee Security Awareness Training

Employees are the weakest link in the data security chain, according to recent surveys. Despite training, workers open suspicious emails with the potential to download viruses every day. Employers make the error of assuming that one cybersecurity training session is sufficient. 

Schedule regular classes every quarter or even monthly if you’re serious about protecting your crucial data.

Employees have been known to leave those classes, head back to their desks, and open shady emails without a second thought. 


Conduct Regular Risk Assessment

Your company might already have a cybersecurity plan in place, but is it up to date? Your data is still not completely secure, though, as hackers are constantly coming up with new ways to find holes in the system. 

Therefore, it’s important to regularly conduct cybersecurity audits and vulnerability assessments to ensure that the policies in place are strong enough to keep the bad guys out.


Acquire An SSL Certificate

The client-server connection is typically compromised by hackers in order to gain access to confidential data. Information sent over a network is encrypted with an SSL certificate, rendering it unreadable by anyone besides the intended recipients.

By ensuring that the data is not corrupted, SSL certificates offer data integrity and data encryption. They authenticate data by limiting access to it to those who have the proper authorization. There are numerous types and levels of validation for SSL certificates.

Buy a service or provider if you need to secure a single domain and all of its subdomains. Companies can quickly secure a single domain and an unlimited number of subdomains using this cost- and convenience-effective method.


Regularly Update Your Systems

Regularly update your systems, including software, hardware, and security protocols. This will help ensure that any vulnerabilities are patched and minimize the risk of a data breach.


Set Up A Security Investigation Framework

Security investigation frameworks can be a part of your breach response plan. With these security investigation frameworks in place, breaches can be automatically detected, traced, and investigated. 

WireX Systems provides one of the best security investigation framework systems in the market today. When a malicious activity is detected, WireX Systems’ IR Platform retrieves related alert details from your SIEM solution and enables a deep and effective investigation across all sensors. 

All the data is correlated to the investigated ticket, and using a set of out-of-the-box views that show every activity that was performed (including access to files, servers, encrypted traffic, lateral movement, and more), even an entry-level operator is able to get clear and comprehensive data required for the investigation process.

You can reach out to us for a custom solution or request a demo.


Protecting Your Business From Data Breaches

Data breaches can have devastating consequences for both businesses and individuals. It is essential to take proactive steps to protect your data and be aware of the potential threats. 

At WireX Systems, we understand your pain when it comes to properly investigating every alert. And currently, the investigation tools that are presently available have failed to meet enterprise business needs. 

However, with our approach, we deliver comprehensive security intelligence in actual human-readable format, so you can save effort and time when validating alerts and responding to security incidents. 

You can learn more about how our technology reduces breach dwell time, but we also have a Whitepaper on the top 3 requirements to turbocharge your incident response. 

And, as always, reach out to us, and we’ll discuss how to best support your network security needs.

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  1. “2022 Data Breach Investigations Report.” Verizon Business, https://www.verizon.com/business/resources/reports/dbir/. 
  2. Gustke, Constance. “No Business Too Small to Be Hacked.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Jan. 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/14/business/smallbusiness/no-business-too-small-to-be-hacked.html. 
  3. Nayak, Malathi. “U.S. FCC Imposes $25 Million Fine on AT&T over Customer Data Breach.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 8 Apr. 2015, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-at-t-settlement-dataprotection/u-s-fcc-imposes-25-million-fine-on-att-over-customer-data-breach-idUSKBN0MZ1XX20150408. 



What happens in a data breach?

A data breach happens when private, protected information is accessed, viewed, taken, or used by an unauthorized person. Personal information, financial information, medical records, trade secrets, and other sensitive data can all be stolen in data breaches. In a data breach, the data is typically taken without the data owner’s knowledge or consent.


What is the most common cause of a data breach?

An attack that is malicious is the most frequent reason for a data breach. Intentional attempts to access a system or network with the intent of stealing data are known as malicious attacks. Cybercriminals access systems using a variety of methods, including phishing emails, malware, and brute-force attacks.


Can you avoid a data breach?

Although it is challenging to completely prevent data breaches, there are steps that can be taken to lower the risk of one. Companies should create a thorough data security strategy that covers employee security best practices training, using robust encryption and authentication protocols, and routine system patching and updating.


Does a data breach mean hacked?

A data breach is not necessarily the same as a hack. A data breach occurs when sensitive data is accessed or stolen without the knowledge or permission of the data owner. A hack, on the other hand, is an attack on a system or network with the intent to gain access to the system or network.


Why is a data breach bad?

Data breaches can have serious consequences for organizations, including financial losses, reputational damage, and legal action. Data breaches can also have serious implications for individuals whose data is stolen, including the potential for identity theft, financial losses, and emotional distress.

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