Data Breach VS. Data Leak

Data Breach vs Data Leak

Data leaks and data breaches are very similar phenomena with a slight difference in the principle of action. It was a human error in one case and, in the second, a cyber attack. But in both cases, it means that someone got unauthorized access to data that should have been better protected.

What is a Data Breach?

A data breach is when confidential data becomes available to an intruder – usually staff data, client data, company data, financial data, etc. The primary purpose of such a procedure is to sell confidential data on the darknet. Data breaches are achieved by several methods, such as social engineering, hacking, or malware injection. In some cases, data breaches can go undetected for a long time. One notable example was the Marriott International hack in 2014. Back then, hackers were not just able to infiltrate the system but stayed there until 2018, and that led to a data breach of up to 500 million guests. This could have been detected earlier if the company had taken security more seriously and applied at least standard security procedures.

Causes of Data Breaches

If a data breach occurs in a company, it can cause severe and irreparable consequences, so it is important to know why it can happen. Given that most of them are related to the human factor in one way or another, with proper awareness, they can be avoided. The main causes of data breaches:

  • Human error – accidentally sending an email to the wrong person, losing important documents, drives, or devices, or accidentally disclosing confidential information is why most of these breaches happen.
  • Physical theft or loss – accidentally forgetting a device in a cafe, negligent acts of employees, such as sharing passwords, or just lost documents in public transit.
  • Phishing – many people know that opening suspicious emails that contain a link or file, much less following that link or downloading a file, is dangerous. Nevertheless, quite a few people still fall for this kind of deception.
  • Not secure enough data – weak security, a simple, predictable password gives attackers a guaranteed victory over your data protection.
  • Vulnerabilities and security holes – any application that hasn’t been updated for a long time can be an open door for cybercriminals.
  • Cyberattacks – malware, ransomware, and other viruses are constantly improving and evolving, posing a threat to the data breach.
  • Social engineering – this method, like phishing, is designed for gullible people who can give the fraudster unauthorized access to confidential information.

How to Prevent Data Breaches

The next tips help minimize the chances of your organization being affected by a data breach:

  1. Comply with GDPR. Develop a clear, GDPR-compliant company policy to keep your sensitive data secure.
  2. Work on a security policy for data and equipment usage. A detailed description of data processing methods and processes and secure BYOD practices will help reduce the likelihood of a successful hack.
  3. Automation of processes will minimize the number of human errors, which are the leading cause of data breaches.
  4. Provide cybersecurity training to employees, thus reducing employee negligence and raising awareness of how to detect suspicious online activity.
  5. Encrypt your data. Even if a fraudster can get their hands on it, encryption will prevent them from taking advantage.
  6. Regulate the restriction of access to confidential information. Only employees who need it for their jobs should have access to it.
  7. Monitor access and use of data. Please keep track of data that has been sent outside your network and who sent it.
  8. Keep your system up to date. Updates include patches and improvements and fixes for vulnerabilities that cybercriminals like to exploit.
  9. Regularly analyze your system for vulnerabilities. This way, you can identify potential threats before they can do any harm.
  10. Back up your data regularly, so in case of damages, you will have a chance to recover it quickly, and the recovery process will take much fewer resources.
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Data loss prevention (DLP) is a method for detecting data loss and preventing a specific case, including awareness of protected content or context.

What is a Data Leak?

A data leak is also a leak of confidential information, not because of a cyber attack but an unintentional leak or system vulnerability. Also, unlike data breaches, with a data leak, you cannot say for sure whether such information is in the public domain or not. The leading causes of data leakage are flaws in security policy, improper user access to the site, or improperly designed applications. The main difference between data leakage is that it happens due to an error in processing or an internal source.

As an example, take Facebook – Cambridge Analytica, in which a whistle-blower covered the unethical practices of Banbridge Analytica. This circumstance can be classified as a data leak because an excessive amount of user data was collected, but no information was exposed to the public.

Causes of Data Leaks

Data leakage occurs because proper security measures are not followed during data transmission. Here are three main reasons why data leaks are:

  • Data transmission over the Internet without proper API protection, no port protection, or other port protocol increases the risk of data leakage. The same applies to email transmission, web browsing, and other forms of online communication.
  • Data at rest – If data is stored on insecure devices, for example, files with confidential information are stored on a drive without a password, this can also lead to data leakage.
  • Data leaks can occur if the leaked data is on removable media lost or forgotten.

How to Prevent Data Leaks

The key method to prevent data leaks is a proactive approach to the issue of cybersecurity. The approach to security must be layered to reduce the consequences of an intrusion. Here are some tips to help prevent data leaks:

  1. Use end-point protection. Data leaks are often caused by improper configuration or inefficient storage of sensitive information on end-point devices.
  2. Network monitoring. Monitoring data sent and received between your organization and others will detect unusual behavior or suspicious traffic, thus significantly reducing the chances of data leakage.
  3. Use secure storage. Storing sensitive data in clear, unprotected form would make it easy for a potential attacker to take advantage of the data. Encrypting data and regulating access to that data through automation will increase security.
  4. Develop Policy for device usage. To prevent the data leaks, it is important to develop and implement a policy for proper device usage among employees.
  5. Third-party risk management or vendor risk. Applying appropriate third-party risk management will allow you to analyze the data and determine how much of it is shared by the respective vendors.
  6. Comply with GDPR guidelines for data storage and management. This will minimize all risks of data breaches.

What is Worse?

A data leak or a data breach, what is worse? Are there improper security practices, accidental or intentional data breaches, and crooks who broke into your system and stole your data? Suppose, in the first situation, all your resentment is directed at the intruder that has infiltrated your system and the lack of effective security measures in your system. In the second case, you can only blame yourself for leaving your system unprotected without paying due attention to its security.

The situation will be unfortunate, and the headlines will be loud in both cases. Regardless of size or industry, many organizations occasionally encounter problems securing the confidentiality or integrity of collected data. In order to avoid misleading people or solving complex situations, it is important to know the differences and understand the difference between data breaches and data leaks. Even though both are very damaging to your organization’s reputation, the second scenario is more devastating.

By Stephanie Adlam

I write about how to make your Internet browsing comfortable and safe. The modern digital world is worth being a part of, and I want to show you how to do it properly.

View all of Stephanie Adlam's posts.

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