8 Most Common Causes of a Data Breach | EasyDMARC

8 Most Common Causes of a Data Breach

8 Min Read

Data breaches are a rising global threat. According to IBM and the Ponemon Institute, data breaches reached a record high in the last two years. Over 2,200 cyberattacks happen daily, costing large companies $4,24 million with each attack. The most frustrating part of these recurring events is that the causes of data breaches remain pretty much the same for private persons and companies alike.

The mitigation of data breaches strictly depends on how high you regard the data managed by your company. Don’t underestimate the importance of data loss prevention-it’s key given the ongoing proliferation of cybercrime. Learning about the most common causes of data leaks is useless unless you take action to prevent these events. In the following lines, we discuss eight common causes of security breaches and how to solve these issues with effective measures.

Weak Passwords

What is the number one cause of data breaches? You’ll likely find that weak passwords are the top reason. According to the Harris Poll, 75% of Americans are duly frustrated with maintaining secure passwords. Out of that number, over 24% use common passwords such as sequential numbers, a single word, or a combination of three letters and three numbers. 49% of password users only change a single character or digit on their password when they’re prompted to update them.

Keeping a strong password isn’t that difficult. Many cybersecurity experts agree that combining a single sentence with different cases and numbers is more than enough. A single word won’t do the trick since you usually choose something inherent to your character. Hackers with experience in social engineering can pick up on that to figure out your digital keys. If keeping track of your passwords is a chore, we suggest you invest in a reliable password manager service to make life easier. 

Criminal Hacking

Criminal hacking—it’s what causes the majority of data breaches. These are planned attacks by cybercriminals always looking to exploit computer systems or networks. Some common techniques include phishing, password attacks, SQL injections, malware infection, and DNS spoofing. Cyber actors know their way around these methods, and they know how to identify entry points or weaknesses in the network infrastructure of large organizations.

Criminal hacking happens because many companies fail to set up adequate security measures. One of the best ways to prevent data loss is by implementing a proper set of protective measures. With a solid DLP strategy, you can avoid cyberattacks and keep your data safe. Monitoring tools also identify anomalies, so you’ll know when a cyberattack occurs. A company without defenses can be targeted and never notice the data leak until it’s too late.   

App Vulnerabilities and Backdoors

When it comes to apps, the most common cause of data breaches is usually an unpatched vulnerability. Applications aren’t built on perfect frameworks; they are pieces of software with vulnerabilities. A faulty app can be a backdoor to steal data such as your name, email, or even bank details. Initially, these cracks go unnoticed by software providers and regular users, while cybercriminals find them to initiate a zero-day attack.

Most companies are constantly testing their software to fend off any potential attacks to address these exploits. When a company finds a vulnerability, they release a patch to fix any security issues. That’s why many apps on your phone or laptop frequently request updates. You must accept these data patches promptly to increase your security and keep your devices and apps running smoothly.  

Social Engineering

Social engineering is the number one cause of data breaches for companies and organizations worldwide. Most cybercriminals are good at social engineering since it’s much easier than creating access points to exploit a system. Social engineering attacks rely on psychological manipulation to trick users into giving up their credentials. These attacks are carried out using emails, SMS messages, social networks, and even calls.

The best way to prevent social engineering attacks is to pay close attention to all requests made in any suspicious emails, calls, or messages. No company asks for login information or personal data, especially not banks or payment platforms. Look at small details such as grammar and syntax. If you’re being called, take note of the requested details but never divulge sensitive info over the phone. Most social engineering scams are run outside of the USA by people pretending to be representative of a company you deal with consistently.  

Phishing, Malware, and Ransomware

When identifying what the most common cause of data breach is, it always boils down to any of these three. Phishing is a social engineering attack where cybercriminals manipulate their victims into giving up their personal information. Phishing scams are conducted mainly by email, often appealing to your sense of urgency or desire to win or receive mega prizes.

Next, we have malware attacks— where cybercriminals use malicious software to breach a system or network. Cyber actors usually disguise malware as executable files or links you have to interact with to inject malicious code into your systems. Ransomware works similarly. The only difference is that this program is designed to lock you out of your data or system and hold it until you pay to get access back.  

The best way to prevent these attacks is with a very judgmental eye. You should always look at the sender’s address of any email, especially if it urges you to take action. Don’t click on links or open files sent by unknown senders, and stay away from untrusted websites. Examine such links, URLs, and files carefully, and keep your antivirus updated. Antiviruses can pick up most malware threats and delete them from your systems. 

Improper Permission Management

How many people have access to your company’s data flow? Many IT departments are happy to offer a key log to anyone needing access to the company’s network at any time. You can’t afford to give these permissions out so easily. When identifying what causes security breaches, you’re likely to find out how too many permissions put you in danger.

If there’s a need for ongoing access to all team members, keep an access registry. Make sure it shows who accesses your systems, where they go, and what they take. You can eventually manage just how many people need restricted or limited access. Access protocols are part of any solid DLP strategy and an excellent way to keep your data safe.  

User Error and Insider Threats

If you ask someone in the IT department, what causes the majority of data breaches, they’ll tell you it’s people. The worst part of this answer is they’re right. Humans are the weakest link of any security measure to protect your company’s digital assets. A weak password, improper data extraction, and lack of email security best practices can cause a data breach worth thousands of dollars.

On the other hand, we have insider threats. Disgruntled employees can cause more damage to a company than black hat hackers. If you’re getting the wrong vibes from someone working for you, it’s best to restrict their access before things get ugly. An insider threat can easily lead to loss of intellectual property data exposure.

Physical Threats

Are you sure your premises are safe and secure? One of the causes of security breaches is physical attacks. Not all hackers are sitting in a dirty basement spying on you. Many of them take proactive action to access your system. Cyber actors are often very knowledgeable about human psychology. Nothing prevents them from using their online charm in the real world. 

Cybercriminals can easily disguise themselves as delivery persons or even company employees to access your computers or servers. Once they’re there, they only need seconds to plant their malicious code via a USB flash. Even if it sounds complex, these criminals aren’t above the challenge. You can solve this issue by implementing a strict access policy to your building, such as using badges, especially for sensitive areas.

Final Thoughts

Knowing the causes of data breaches and how to mitigate them is paramount to cybersecurity. Determine what data loss prevention is to your company and set up protocols to protect your data. 

Knowledge is the best defense against data leaks. You and your team need to understand the machinations of these events.

Train your team to have stronger passwords. Teach them about the dangers of criminal hacking. Ensure they know the importance of updating their systems with the latest security patches. It’s also crucial to train them to understand social engineering risks and how malware, phishing, and ransomware can affect the company. 

Keep a watchful eye on improper permissions and insider threats too. Your data is the most valuable asset of your company, and you need to do everything to keep it safe.

Various authors from EasyDMARC teams have contributed to our blog during company's lifetime. This author brings everyone together.


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