Data Breaches: All You Need to Know About Them | Part 2

Data breaches happen all the time, and they have significant implications. Just recently, hackers released millions of Twitter IDs and user info for free from a data breach in late 2021. The vulnerability? A flaw in Twitter’s API and its discoverability settings allowed hackers to access the usernames, passwords, and contact details of users.  

This is just one example of how vulnerabilities can lead to serious data breaches, and expose sensitive user data. As hackers become more adept at infiltrating systems, the Twitter data breach is just the tip of the iceberg – hardly a surprise but certainly an important reminder.  

In our first blog post on data breaches, we defined what data breaches are, how they occur, and what stages they go through. In our second post on the topic, we will examine what kinds of vulnerabilities may lead to data breaches and how breaches affect users. We will also look at what companies can do to prevent breaches, how to recover from one, and how AMATAS can help you avoid having your systems compromised in the first place. So let’s get started! 

What kinds of vulnerabilities can lead to a data breach? 

Quite a few different vulnerabilities exist that can be used by attackers as doors to gain access to systems and data. Here are some of the most common vulnerabilities that are exploited when a data breach attack is attempted. 

Weak or stolen passwords 

Weak credentials that can easily be guessed are one of the most common vulnerabilities exploited by attackers to gain access. Password guessing tools, as well as databases of leaked passwords, are frequently used in these scenarios, especially if unlimited attempts at guessing can be made. 

Unsecured devices 

The use of personal devices to access company systems constitutes a high-security risk. Without clear security standards that apply to all devices, a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy can act as an open door.  

Unsecured WiFi and hotspot connections 

WiFi networks and hotspots are common attack vectors. Unencrypted connections allow for communications to be intercepted via man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks, sessions to be hijacked, packets to be sniffed, and more. Coupled with unsecured devices, this can wreak havoc on your systems. Such attacks are even possible if the connection is end-to-end encrypted.

Software corruption, backdoors, and outdated components 

Badly written applications and unintentional backdoors, security vulnerabilities, and bugs can constitute serious risks. Once a vulnerability is found and made public (through, for example, the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) list), attacks on vulnerable systems usually break out like wildfire. Companies that fail to apply the necessary security patches and fixes run a risk of suffering a breach. 

Lack of proper security logging and monitoring 

Failing to log and monitor important types of data, networks and network endpoints, devices or other systems is not a vulnerability that can be exploited to gain access to data. However, it creates a blind spot that can make it easier for attackers to get in unnoticed. It also makes breach recovery significantly more difficult because there are fewer traces left of the attack and the vulnerability that made it possible. 

Too many access permissions 

Granting users too much access and authority to handle data means that there is a greater risk of a breach should someone’s profile get hijacked. Misconfigured access is a significant vulnerability and opens the door to things like privilege escalation attacks where attackers make use of the already existing permissions to gain even greater access and rights within a system. 

Unknown and unstructured data 

As the amount of data increases, companies sometimes find themselves in the position of having a lot of data that is not well organized, structured, and labeled. This creates stores of data, also known as shadow data, that are neither well-maintained nor well-secured, and can even go forgotten. Such shadow data stores are a perfect target for attackers. 

What are the effects of a data breach? 

Data breaches can have significant financial, reputational, personal, and even political consequences, depending on the type of data being stolen. Typically, attackers will seek to either sell the data they have obtained, ask for ransom from the affected party, or deliberately leak the data so as to expose the source of the data, and cause losses and damages to it. 

For example, when a company holding user data suffers a breach, this usually has serious implications for individuals, in particular, if the data is personally identifiable information (PII) or protected health information (PHI). As a result, a company may be fined, and may also face lawsuits, along with the significant reputational damages that result from this situation. Alternatively, it may lose important company secrets, intellectual property, and other information that is key to its business model and success. 

If a government agency suffers a data breach, this can lead to important, sensitive, and confidential information being exposed, such as infrastructure details, military secrets, national financial data, and more. Such a breach can create serious security risks that may be taken advantage of by foreign parties to create social, economic, or political instability and threats.  

When an individual’s data is exposed attackers can make use of that to steal that person’s identity and represent them falsely, to gain access to their social and financial accounts, misuse their funds, ruin their reputation, spread false or sensitive information, and more. 

This is why data breaches can be so dangerous and why securing and protecting the information you hold is important. 

How to prevent data breaches?

There are quite a few measures that companies and individuals can take to prevent data breaches from happening. These include: 

  • Instituting and maintaining good security practices, and educating employees on how to comply with them, and in particular when it comes to using a personal device. 
  • Regularly conducting vulnerability assessments and penetration testing, and making the necessary changes and fixes, based on the results. 
  • Patching and updating software systems as soon as possible. 
  • Implementing high-grade encryption and backups for sensitive and confidential data, and creating a recovery plan. 
  • Requiring that employees use strong passwords, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and that passwords are changed periodically.  
  • Using malware protection and implementing endpoint security. 
  • Disabling unnecessary and vulnerable services. 
  • Connecting only to secured and monitored networks or personal networks. 

Prevent data breaches with AMATAS 

Do you need help with creating the right security environment to prevent the possibility of a data breach occurring? AMATAS has in-depth expertise and varied experience in helping clients store, secure, and handle data with high degrees of security. 

Our Virtual Data Protection Officer (DPO) service can provide you with the necessary assistance in creating the data security that you require. Get in touch and let’s discuss your data protection needs, and how we can help!  

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