A news feed isn't complete if it isn't peppered with data breach news. Every day prestigious businesses are falling victim to a pernicious threat expected to cost the world $10.5 trillion annually by 2025.
The key to overturning the formidable upward data breach trend is to prevent the events that could potentially develop into data breaches. All data leaks need to be identified and remediated before they are discovered by cybercriminals.
What is a data leak?
A data leak is an overlooked exposure of sensitive data either electronically or physically. Data leaks could occur on the internal or via physical devices such as external hard drives or laptops.
If a cybercriminal locates a data leak, they can use the information to arm themselves for a data breach attack.
Examples of data leaks
The holy grail of sensitive information exposure is Personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as names, contact information, and financial details. Other less potent forms of data leaks can be used for reconnaissance missions to uncover internal secrets.
There are four major categories of data leaks - customer information, company information, trade secrets, and analytics.
1. Customer information
Some of the biggest data breaches included customer data leaks that involved Personal Identifiable information. Customer data is unique to each company. Customer confidential information could include any of the following:
- Customer names
- Phone number
- email addresses
- Payments histories
- Product browsing habits
- Card numbers
2. Company information
Leaked company information exposes sensitive internal activity. Such data leaks tend to be in the cross-hairs of unscrupulous businesses pursuing the marketing plans of their competitors.
Company data leaks could include the following:
- Internal communications
- Performance metrics
- Marketing strategies
3. Trade secrets
This is the most dangerous form of data leak to a business. The theft of intellectual property destroys the potential of a business, running it to the ground.
Trade secret data leakage could include the following:
- Upcoming product plans
- Software coding
- Proprietary technology information
Analytics dashboards are fed by large data sets, and cybercriminals are drawn to any sizable pool of data. Analytics software is, therefore, an attack vector that needs to be monitored.
Analytics data leaks could include the following:
- Customer behaviour data
- Psychographic data
- Modeled data
Difference between a data leak and a data breach
A data breach is the outcome of a planned cyber attack, but a data leak is the accidental exposure of sensitive data by a business. Cybercriminals do not create data leaks, they discover them and then use them to launch data breach attacks.
Data leaks tend to result from poor security practices. A business can also be impacted if any of its vendors have a data leak. Because these vulnerabilities occur throughout a vast attack landscape they’re difficult to detect and remediate before it’s too late.
Without a sophisticated data protection solution, businesses will remain vulnerable to data breaches through their third-party network.
7 tips to protect your business from data leaks
The following data security practices could prevent data leaks and minimize the chances of data breaches
1. Evaluate the risk of third-parties
Unfortunately, your vendors may not take cybersecurity as seriously as you do. It’s important to keep evaluating the security posture of all vendors to ensure they’re not at risk of suffering a data breach.
Vendor risk assessments are a common method keeping third-party compliant with regulatory standards, such as HIPAA, PCI-DSS, or GDPR. Risk questionnaires could be compiled by garnishing relevant questions from existing frameworks, or ideally, sent from a third-party attack surface monitoring solution
It can be difficult to keep up with the risk management demands of a vast third-party cloud service network. To prevent overlooked vendor risks that leave businesses vulnerable to data breaches, third-party risk management is best entrusted to a team of CyberResearch analysts.
2. Monitor all network access
The more corporate network traffic that's monitored, the higher the chances of identifying suspicious activity. Data breach attacks are usually preceded by reconnaissance campaigns - cybercriminals need to identify the specific defenses that need circumventing during an attack.
Data leak prevention solutions empower organizations to identify and strengthen security vulnerabilities to prevent the possibility of reconnaissance campaigns.
Security policies may need to be revised to enforce privileged access to highly sensitive data.
3. Identify all sensitive data
Before Data Loss Prevention (DLP) practices can be initiated, businesses need to identify all of the sensitive data that needs to be secured. This data then needs to be correctly classified in line with strict security policies,
With all sensitive data identified and correctly classified, a business can tailor the most efficient data leak prevention defenses for each data category.
4. Secure all endpoints
An endpoint is any remote access point that communicates with a business network, either via end-users or autonomously. This includes Internet of Things devices, computers, and mobile devices.
With most businesses now adopting some form of a remote working model, endpoints have become dispersed (sometimes even internationally) making them harder to secure.
Firewalls and VPNs offer a base layer of endpoint security but they’re not enough. Staff are often tricked into introducing malware into an ecosystem to bypass these security defenses.
Organizations need to train their staff to recognize the trickery of cyberattackers, particularly email phishing and social engineering attacks. Education is a very powerful data leakage prevention solution.
5. Encrypt all data
Cybercriminals may find it difficult to exploit data leaks if the data is encrypted. There are two main categories of data encryption - Symmetric-Key Encryption and Public-Key Encryption.
While encrypted data may stump sophomoric hacker, acerbic cyber attackers could decrypt the data without a decryption key. For this reason, data encryption shouldn’t be the sole data leak prevention tactic but used alongside all of the methods in this list.
6. Evaluate all permissions
Your confidential data could currently be accessed by users that don’t require it. As an initial response, all permissions should be evaluated to ensure access isn’t being granted to authorized parties.
Once this has been verified, all critical data should be categorized into different levels of sensitivity to control access to different pools of data. Only trustworthy staff with essential requirements should have access to highly sensitive data.
This privileged access assignment process may also surface any malicious insiders that are facilitating sensitive data exfiltration.
7. Monitor the security posture of all vendors
Sending risk assessments will prompt vendors to strengthen their cybersecurity efforts, but without a monitoring solution, remediation efforts cannot be confirmed.
Security scoring is a highly efficient way of evaluating a vendor’s susceptibility to data breaches. These monitoring solutions display all vendors in the third-party network alongside their security rating, giving organizations instant transparency into the health status of their entire vendor network.
Protect your business from data leaks with CyberResearch
CyberResearch empowers organizations to identify all of the data leaks in their ecosystem and to scale their cybersecurity efforts efficiently. This world-first solution is delivered through the following modules:
Organizations can now entrust Third-Party risk management to a team of expert analysts. Without having to dedicate internal resources to managing risk assessments and remediation efforts, more bandwidth can be devoted to strategy and R&D.
The flexible support of CyberResearch analysts also means that organizations can scale their security efforts quickly and cost-effectively.
The CyberResearch data leaks module exceeds competitor capabilities by also monitoring for data leaks throughout the vendor network. Data leak detection can also be fully managed by a team of analysts to support rapid and secure scaling.
By identifying which vendors are leaking data, preemptive remediation action can be undertaken to significantly reduce the impact of third-party breaches.
UpGuard also supports compliance across a myriad of security frameworks, including the new requirements set by Biden's Cybersecurity Executive Order.
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