Data leak prevention is a cybersecurity practice that involves implementing secure data practices to reduce accidental exposure. Effective data leak prevention plays a crucial role in a comprehensive data loss prevention (DLP) strategy.
Data leaks are an easy attack vector for cybercriminals. Exposed data, such as leaked credentials, allows unauthorized access to an organization’s systems. This direct access enables hackers to carry out a range of cyber attacks with less effort, such as:
- Ransomware and other types of malware injections
- Social engineering, including phishing
- Data exfiltration/data theft
What is a Data Leak?
If a cybercriminal locates a data leak, they can use the information to arm themselves for a data breach attack.
The Importance of Data Leak Prevention
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 cyber 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. Organizations must identify and remediate all data leaks before they are discovered by cybercriminals. Cybercriminals can also take advantage of similar tactics of prior attacks to expose similar system vulnerabilities.
What Causes Data Leaks?
Data leaks occur when sensitive data is accidentally exposed publicly, either physically or digitally. Common causes of data leaks include:
- Misconfigured software settings
- Social engineering
- Recycled or weak passwords
- Physical theft/loss of sensitive devices
- Software vulnerabilities
- Insider threats
Examples of Data Leaks
The holy grail of sensitive information exposure is Personally Identifiable Information (PII), including names, contact information, financial details, and other personal data. 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
- Social Security numbers
- Payments histories
- Product browsing habits
- Credit 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 leakage could include the following types of data:
- Upcoming product plans
- Software coding
- Proprietary technology information
Analytics data leaks could include the following:
- Customer behavior 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.
8 Tips to Protect Your Business from Data Leaks
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 of 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. Cyber 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.
Information security policies may need to be revised to enforce privileged access to highly sensitive data.
3. Identify All Sensitive Data
Data Loss Prevention (DLP) should be front of mind for organizations looking to enhance their data leak prevention strategies. Before DLP policies 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.
Data classification categories could include Protective Health Information, financial data, and other sensitive data forms.
With correct sensitive data discovery and classification, 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 (IoT) devices, desktop computers, and mobile devices.
With most organizations now adopting some form of a remote working model, endpoints have become dispersed (sometimes even internationally), making them harder to secure. Organizations must extend their coverage to cloud-based endpoint security.
Employees with iPhone access to their organizations' networks should ensure they use the Security Recommendations feature, which identifies if any of their saved credentials have been compromised in a data leak.
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.
Securing endpoints is a fundamental component of Data Loss Prevention (DLP).
5. Implement Data Loss Prevention (DLP) Software
Data loss prevention (DLP) is an overarching data protection strategy that should include data leak prevention as a core component. An effective DLP system combines processes and technology to ensure sensitive data is not lost, misused, or exposed to unauthorized users.
Software providers can help organizations streamline their DLP strategies as data loss prevention solutions automate its main components.
Below are the 6 components of DLP and use cases of automated DLP products and other security solutions.
1. Data identification: Many organizations leverage automation techniques, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), to streamline the data identification process.
2. Securing data in motion: Organizations can install DLP software at the network edge to detect sensitive data that is being sent in violation of security policies and filter traffic for false positives.
3. Securing endpoints: Endpoint DLP agents can monitor user behavior in real time and control data transfers between specified parties, e.g., through instant messaging apps.
5. Secure data in use: Comprehensive DLP tools can monitor and flag unauthorized user behavior, e.g., unauthorized privilege escalation on an app.
6. Data leak detection: If data leak prevention strategies fall through, fast remediation is crucial to avoiding a data breach. Effective data leak detection tools can scan the open and deep web for data exposures, including S3 buckets and GitHub repositories, enabling faster removal of potential breach vectors.
6. 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 amateur hackers, capable 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
The UpGuard platform assigns all vendors a security score based on an analysis of 70+ vectors.
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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