Data Breach: A Definitive Guide

Data security is a serious concern for people around the world considering experts believe that data is the currency of the upcoming generation. Companies, organizations, and governments spend billions of dollars each year trying to protect and breach data for better control and profit.

A single data breach incident can cost companies and people their careers, or even their life savings. Therefore, data breaches are one of the biggest threats to the technologically advanced world we live in. Everyone needs to understand what a data breach is and how it can impact people.

We are going to talk about data breaches, breach alerts, why it is important to protect your personal information, and how identity theft can harm you in the long run. So, ensure you follow this definitive guide to understand things better. Let us start by brushing some basics about what data breach is and how it works.

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What is Data Breach?

A data breach or data leak is unauthorized access of information. This information can belong to individuals, groups, or organizations. Sensitive information owned by these groups is highly at risk of a data breach because it can bring political, social, or economical benefits. It also refers to a cybersecurity mishap that intentionally or unintentionally compromises user information and renders them vulnerable. This data or information falling into the wrong hands could negatively impact the owner.

Data breach incidents are increasing by the day. A big reason for this is the easy availability of data and information because of digital platforms. Although some of this information is non-sensitive, most of it is highly critical and can be misused in numerous ways.

Understanding Data Breaches

Information is one of the easiest available, accessible, and achievable entities on the internet. It is because options like cloud computing have helped store information for millions of people globally. While these platforms have good security protocols, a single strategized information attack can impact the data storage.

Even companies that use these services use these cloud services because of their extensive options, professional services, and cost-friendly plans. It helps these businesses focus more on their primary goals rather than spending time trying to secure personal information from users and members.

While this seems like a good idea for the companies, it also poses a huge threat to the rest of the people. It is because some people may want to take access to this information and use it for their gains through illegal means.

All these attempts have diverted a lot of pressure and attention towards the problem of cybersecurity. For instance, there were almost 1001 reported cases of data breach incidents in the US alone during 2020. The majority of these attacks focused on large-scale companies and organizations as they have valuable information.

There have been multiple cases where well-established companies have also declared a case of a data breach because of this. A good example is Yahoo’s data breach, which claimed nearly 500 million accounts’ information may have been at risk during the breach. What’s more alarming is that the investigation revealed that the data breach occurred two years earlier, but Yahoo kept it a secret.

This could just be the tip of the iceberg considering no one knows how many data breach cases have gone unnoticed by the general public.

Origin of Data Breaches

Interestingly, a data breach is a huge concern for companies ever since the start of the corporate world. The only difference is the methods for data breaches. Companies have been accessing personal information for targeted marketing, product improvement, and several other business-related activities forever. Simpler examples of these data breaches included viewing someone’s personal information such as medical records without their consent.

However, modern data breaches started becoming more frequent during the 1980s when technology started playing a major role in data storage. There are different policies, regulations, and steps that companies have taken since then.

However, these prevention steps aren’t fully effective because data breach technology and options are becoming increasingly popular. We are going to move ahead and discuss the most common types of data breaches that data owners should know about.

Types of Data Breaches

Data breaching individuals understand that companies use various methods and protocols to protect their information and data from unauthorized access. Therefore, the methods for data breaches also evolve with time. We have come a long way from stealing or accessing unauthorized storage devices. Unfortunately, the leading businesses aren’t secure from these data breach attempts. Moreover, medium to small businesses are even at a higher risk for these data breaches.

Following are some of the most common types of data breaches that you should know about before heading forward to the anti breach methods.

Stolen Information

Human errors are one of the biggest reasons for data breach incidents globally. A single mistake can cost companies thousands of dollars in loss, and a few thousand more for lawsuits. There is not much a company can do if their information gets stolen. Sadly, even the best companies can fall prey to these issues. For instance, Apple has also faced this problem.

It is because one of their employees left the prototype of the next iPhone lying around. This caused the specs, specifications, and details of the upcoming device to surface on the internet. Many competitors also reset their action course and tried to improve their device compared to Apple’s upcoming phone.

Similarly, any business could face serious trouble if they leave sensitive information on internal or external devices lying around.


Ransomware is a kind of malware where a user gets a message informing them about the data breach. Most of these individuals have their personal information compromised and an attacker demanding ransom in return. These ransomware attackers use various tactics, and types of methods to carry out these attacks.

For instance, they may use a prompt with a timer, or a series of annoying messages on-screen demanding money. However, there is little to no way to track this breach alert.

Unfortunately, these ransomware attacks aren’t limited to computer systems only. 50% of traffic on the internet comes from mobile devices, and these ransomware attacks can prevent an owner from accessing their devices.

Password Guessing

Password Guessing may seem like harmless guessing, but it can cause a lot of damage if it is successful. Interestingly, these cases occur more frequently than one might imagine. For instance, there is always a chance that some meddling employees may try to access if they have a hint on the password.

Similarly, some companies list their passwords in a notepad file, which is publically accessible. There are several people attacked only because they have simple, easily-guessed passwords on their systems. It is why social media platforms, online websites, and other sites require users to register with a more complicated password. These kinds of attacks are also called brute-force attacks and are quite common with users.

For example, users that have their street name, pet name, birthdays, or other easily accessible information are at a higher risk of these kinds of data breaches. This can even cause identity theft in severe cases (more on this later).

Once these people have access to your system and files, they can view sensitive information from your accounts and misuse it.

KeyStroke Recording

Keyloggers are a more sophisticated method used for recording keystrokes on your system. This method involves a hacker sharing a keylogger extension with you through a link. These loggers record the strokes you make on your keyboard when you enter your password.

It then sends this information to the hackers, who use it to access your accounts. Unfortunately, there is no saying where this might happen to you. For instance, it could happen to you at a public device, your workplace, or even at your home, if you aren’t cautious about it.

The biggest concern is that these programs can record pretty much anything you type on your systems. For example, it can include credit card numbers, personal information, sensitive information such as passwords, and much more. This makes the possibility of identity much likelier.

In severe cases, hackers can use this sensitive information against your company as they could have full access to your system. These hackers can release this information, or demand ransom to return the access and info.

Phishing Attacks

Phishing is one of the most deceptive forms of a data breach that one can come across. It involves using third-party websites that pose as authentic websites. Most of these websites include online retail stores. For instance, they can create a fake website with the same theme as Amazon or eBay.

Once users find something they like, they will enter their credit card details on the platform. This is where the data breach occurs. These websites will make it look like you are logging in, but you will share your account credentials with someone.

University data breaches occur through this method in most cases. Most of these students get emails from third-party websites that ask students to log in their portal details on the platform. The hackers can then log in to their accounts and do anything they want with these students for as long as they want.

These kinds of personal information breaches cost students thousands of dollars in the form of dropped courses, student loans, and much more. Unfortunately, these are most common because most educational institutes do not have the much-required security protocols against these platforms. A single phishing attempt can compromise your safety and well-being as a person completely. Therefore, people of all areas need to stay cautious of such scenarios.

Viruses and Malware

Viruses and malware are some of the oldest tricks in the cases that include data breaches. These kinds of scenarios are common with almost any company. However, companies that rely on digital systems extensively are at a higher risk.

For example, a single malware or virus attack at a hospital could disrupt their working completely. It is because these hospitals have real-time records of patients, their personal information, and other sensitive information.

A successful malware attack in these hospitals could reel in personal data for thousands of patients that these hackers can misuse later on. It can even lead to accessing the medical history of patients, insurance policy details, and data breaches for extensive tasks.

There isn't much an organization can do against these kinds of attempts. But, creating better cyber security policies, protocols and protective systems can help. An essential part is training humans for these kinds of threats. It is because statistics reveal that human error is one of the most popular reasons for data breaches for users globally.

It is important to teach employees, and other users not to click on links or attachments they aren’t sure about. This simple trick can help avoid hundreds of data breach attempts in companies around the world. There are several cases where a single wrong click deletes complete servers and compromises information use.

Distributed Denial of Services

The Distributed Denial of Services only occurs with large-scale, well-established companies. Most of these attempts are a form of protest against these companies. For example, organizations like Anonymous declaring a protest against leading pharmaceutical companies are a prime example of these kinds of attacks.

They can launch an attack if they feel like the companies are taking advantage of the public. These attacks are much simpler than others on the list. They make it impossible to login into the systems, and lock the owners out of their systems, till they mend their ways.

However, this happens to a selected group of companies, instead of individuals, because it requires extensive planning.

What Causes A Data Breach?

The causes of the data breach against personal information are almost as complex as the act itself. Companies and organizations need to keep a track of the main causes of these data breaches to take necessary steps against them.

Therefore, we are going to talk about some of the top causes of a data breach that companies might come across. Ensure reading through these causes to get a clearer idea of what puts you at risk.

Weak Passwords

Weak passwords are the most common reason for data breaches because it makes the information readily available to hackers. Weaker passwords are easier to guess, which makes personal information data breach attempts easier. Statistics reveal that almost 4 out of 5 data breaches occur because of a weak password by users.

It is why most platforms also warn users and urge them to keep stronger (complex) passwords. Stronger passwords also make it harder for keyloggers and other software tools to grab the password. Experts also suggest using multiple cases and numeral combinations with passwords to create a more unique password.

Application Vulnerabilities

Data breaches aren’t always because of human error. There are plenty of cases when it is a platform, or software fault. For example, software with poorly written network coding is easier to hack and breach.

Similarly, pirated software is also a leading reason for this problem. There is a high chance that companies may not have security because some of this software has missing files during piracy. Trying to save a few hundred dollars on an official purchase could cost companies thousands of dollars because of a data breach.

Similarly, the problem persists because data breach schemes are becoming more sophisticated. While original software gets constant network and security updates, others do not. Poor patched or updated software is also at a high risk of these kinds of breaches for the same reason.


Malware attacks can compromise the security of programs and networks. This malware targets the system in different ways. The problem is that some of this malware is detectable, while others go unnoticed until the damage is done.

Malware can even lock out users out of their system; demand monetary payments in return, perform identity theft, and carry out illegal activities in a user’s name. All these acts bring along legal and financial pressure on the victim.

However, there is one thing common among all these malware. They require access or downloadable content on the system. Therefore, people should be careful about what they access or download on their devices.

Social Engineering

Social engineering is a completely different approach that culprits take for a data breach. It rules out the need to access or guess their passwords with complex methods. Instead, these professionals contact the potential victims and provide them with various cash prize offers (fake). However, they claim that users need to provide some personal information to claim these awards. This is where they strike.

However, it is important to stay vigilant of these attempts because they could sabotage your existence, finances, and legal stature completely. It is wise not to get greedy, and stay away from anything that seems too sweet to be true. It will save you from compromising your security yourself, and grant better security against data breaches as a whole. Statistics report that most identity theft attempts also occur through these kinds of methods.

Excessive Permissions

Companies, programs, and software require permissions to carry out tasks on devices. While this permission is important, it is essential to keep in mind that accesses them. For example, imagine a fake application on your phone that demands complete access to your device and you allow it. The hacker can easily bypass all your personal information without you getting a single breach alert. While this seems unfair, it is not. This is because the user grants permission to their data breach attempts themselves.

Therefore, users should always check the details of notifications whenever they have to allow permissions on their device.

Insider Threats

Not all data breach attempts are external. Experts believe that internal security threats within a company are a more dangerous and obvious reason for data breaches around the world. It is because someone like an employee or board member could access the server with enough guidance and sabotage your whole system.

The biggest problem is that most companies do not get breach alerts if these insider threats sabotage their systems. Even if they do not share the information, they can copy, store and duplicate information in exchange for monetary payments.

Similarly, they could release the information on the dark web, where opportunity-hungry hackers could exploit the information furthermore.

Physical Attacks

Not all security breaches are digital or remote. There is a chance that you could lose an important hard drive, storage area, or have duplicating software download all your information and make copies of it without any data breach alerts.

These physical attacks are the most dangerous ones because it is nearly impossible to keep an eye on every visitor in a facility.

These kinds of attempts could take all your sensitive information from you without you even realizing it. It is why most companies have on-site security, camera vigilance, and people looking out for suspicious activities in the facility.

User Error and Configuration Mistakes

Interestingly, the data breach can also occur because of unintentional cases too. Someone doesn’t necessarily have to spend effort in accessing unauthorized information for it to leak. Configuration mistakes in the system can leave the complete system vulnerable and cause a lot of damage to the owners.

Most of this information may easily reach the web if you have a well-reputed company. Third-party platforms and users could also access your information and severs, delete records, misuse information and do much more if you aren’t careful.

How Does A Data Breach Affect Me?

Most people think that personal information and data breach is only a concern for larger companies. However, this is not completely true. Data breaches are just as common with individuals. However, experts qualify it as a completely different area, called identity theft. Before we talk about that, let us talk about how a data breach can impact you.

We are going to start with what it can do for business organizations, followed by the government, and then we will talk about individual personal information breaches.

For Businesses

Companies like Yahoo and Target have been victims of data breaches and unauthorized information access. This has caused these companies thousands of dollars. However, that is not the biggest concern for these companies.

It is because this also puts a question on these companies’ reliability, trust factors, and several other important factors that go unnoticed otherwise. Even today, many people remember these companies for these unfortunate incidents that occurred, instead of their services.

Government Organizations

Government organizations and sectors are responsible for the well-being and betterment of thousands of people around the nation. Single mismanagement from any of these members could cost a whole country its sovereignty and strength against other nations.

Following are some of the most common concerns for these government organizations when it comes to breach alerts.

  • Military operations
  • political dealing
  • Foreign Policies, etc.


Individuals are usually at a high risk of facing trouble because of a data breach. While the average cost of these data breaches is much lower than those for the other two types (government organizations/businesses), it impacts individuals greatly. Experts call these cases identity theft. Statistics reveal that there were over 4.8 million cases of identity theft in the US in 2020. There are various methods and technologies that these kinds of data breaches use. These different methods lead to various kinds of identity thefts too. These types include the following:

  • Child identity theft.
  • Criminal identity theft.
  • Financial identity theft.
  • Medical identity theft.
  • Synthetic identity theft.

Each of these kinds of identity thefts can cost thousands of dollars and put the reputation of individuals at stake. Therefore, people need to stay vigilant of these suspicious activities.

What Can I Do To Prevent Data Breaches?

You probably understand the severity of the problem with data breaches and how it can have a long-lasting impact on you as an organization or an individual.

Let us now talk about some steps you can take to avoid these incidents and make personal information more secure. We are going to move a step ahead of suggesting ways to improve breach alerts and add practical advice for this problem.

Limit Information Access

The first preventive measure you need to take against information breaches is limiting access to information. This limitation revolves around who has access, when, and where they can access it.

Limiting access will not only make better protection possible but will also make it easier for you to identify the information leakage source, because of a smaller information access group.

For example, if you have a service center, not all employees should have access to the financial statements and account information for your clients. Ensure you departmentalize things, and ensure that only relevant people have access to information accordingly. This is a common-sense solution, which will reduce the chance of data breach attempts and access.

Third-Party Vendor Compliance

Companies have a wide variety of third-party vendors, whether they belong to the manufacturing industry or not. However, this also increases the chances of a data breach because you cannot fully know who the vendors are dealing with.

For example, one of your vendors could be an ex-prisoner. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is bad for you; third-party vendor compliance will make it easier for you to perform a background check on these people. You can ensure your company and information safety from breaches and unwanted authorized access.

Train Employees

Employee errors are a leading reason for data breaches around the world. Your company will not get breach alerts for these employee errors because they are insiders. This reduces the chances of being detected by security problems too.

Therefore, your employees must understand what is at stake here. You should teach your employees some basic dos and don’ts of these security protocols. Moreover, they should know what they should do in case they do end up in a data breach situation. You should also create a policy or plan to ensure your employees know the steps to take in these emergencies.

Ensure Regular Software Updates

The majority of software companies have regular updates and patches that can help improve security against data breaches and cyber-attacks. Therefore, it is important to maintain all your software in use. This saves companies from network and security vulnerabilities, reducing chances of access. This is an easy, effective, and pocket-friendly solution that works for almost any business.

You can hire an IT professional to keep eye on the best software based on your industry, business model, and goals. We also suggest investing in this software instead of opting for pirated copies. It may seem like an extra cost but can help secure your personal information and company independence properly.

For example, Microsoft has a tool called BaseLine Security Analyzer that helps assess devices. It can help point out potential security vulnerabilities with your business systems. You can also use the tool to make necessary amends to it. This allows users to keep things secure on their end.

Create a Response Plan

You should always have a response plan for a data breach because there is always a chance that someone could compromise your security protocols. The response plan should include some basics like knowing what sections of your systems to shut down, creating necessary backups, and more. You should try to record the activity and report it to concerned government authorities for legal measures too. While the first response most companies have is restoring their information, it is counterproductive.

Restoring information means you will remove all possible evidence against the perpetrators too. Therefore, we suggest you backup the files on a secondary offline source before restoration.

An effective responsive plan can help foil a data breach attempt and keep your information secure for a longer time.

Bottom Line

A data breach is a serious concern that affects millions of people on average. These attempts aren’t limited to individuals, groups, companies, or even governments. It is a raging problem and its instances are increasing drastically.

Most of these data breaches occur because of human error, poor passwords, carelessness, and simple mistakes. In other cases, phishing, malware, and strategic hacking attempts can take this information from owners. Owners need to have sustainable response plans, security protocols, and detailed information about the data breach. We also suggest consulting with professional cybersecurity individuals to enhance your current security model. These simple steps will help you secure yourself against unauthorized access.

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