Data leak detection software identifies an organization's data leaks – the accidental public exposure of sensitive data due to software misconfigurations and poor network security. Data leaks quickly become data breaches when cybercriminals identify and exploit this exposed data.
The following scenario demonstrates the progression of a cyberattack facilitated by a data leak attack vector:
- Stage 1: An e-commerce company operates its website using the unsecured HTTP protocol, exposing customer transaction details.
- Stage 2: A hacker identifies this vulnerability and undertakes a man-in-the-middle attack, intercepting customer contact details, credit card numbers, and other personal data.
- Stage 3: The hacker posts this data for sale on a dark web forum.
If the e-commerce company was aware of this exposure, they could have patched it immediately, potentially avoiding a serious data breach. Data leak detection software fills this knowledge gap by proactively identifying vulnerabilities that lead to data breaches. Organizations can then prioritize their remediation workflows based on the severity of these threats.
What Causes Data Leaks?
To understand how data leak detection software works, it’s firstly important to understand what causes data leaks. Data leaks occur when sensitive data is accidentally exposed either electronically or physically.
Common causes of data leaks include:
- Misconfigured software settings
- Misconfigured privacy settings
- Cloud storage misconfigurations, such as insecure Amazon S3 buckets
- Firewall misconfigurations
- Software vulnerabilities
- Physical theft of devices, such as phones or laptops
How Data Leak Detection Software Works
Data leak detection software uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to monitor the surface web (including social media, code repositories, and paste sites), deep web, and dark web for accidental data exposures. Users can configure the detection software to search for mentions of their organization’s name or other relevant keywords.
The system then triggers an alert when a hit, or data leak, is found, prompting security teams to remediate the vulnerability before it’s discovered and exploited in a data breach.
Who Uses Data Leak Detection Software?
Any organization that deals with sensitive data should monitor for data leaks. Data security standards are mandated by privacy and protection laws, such as the GDPR, CCPA, and SHIELD Act. Organizations that suffer data breaches face non-compliance with these legal requirements. Harsh financial penalties and reputational damage follow shortly after.
Small businesses and large multinational organizations from all industries can benefit from data leak detection software. Fast remediation is essential in industries with large amounts of confidential data. These types of data could include personally identifiable information (PII), trade secrets, intellectual property, or other confidential information.
- The healthcare sector manages protected health information (PHI). This data is highly valued on the dark web, with cybercriminals purchasing it to commit identity theft and insurance fraud.
- Financial institutions must protect sensitive information, such as credit card numbers and bank account details. Financial data is also very profitable in cybercrime. Cybercriminals can exploit it instantly for theft.
- Government bodies hold in-depth PII on citizens, protected records, and other highly classified information. Threat actors with political motivations, such as ransomware gangs, are likely to target government organizations in cyber attacks.
Why Should I Use Data Leak Detection Software?
Data leaks make data breaches easier for cybercriminals because they offer sensitive internal intelligence that would otherwise require a complex social engineering attack to obtain. Data leaks allow cybercriminals to bypass the first three stages of the cyber kill chain, making them increasingly popular in today's cyber threat landscape. Data breach prevention strategies are now incomplete without a data leak detection solution.
4 Examples of Major Data Leaks
Below are examples of four large-scale data leaks that could have easily escalated to severe security incidents if left undiscovered.
1. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Data Leak
Approximately 6.2 million email addresses were exposed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in a misconfigured Amazon S3 storage bucket. The comma-separated list of addresses was uploaded to the bucket in 2010 by a DSCC employee. The list contained email addresses from major email providers, along with universities, government agencies, and the military.
2. Attunity Data Leak
An UpGuard researcher discovered three publicly accessible Amazon S3 buckets related to Attunity. Of those, one contained a large collection of internal business documents. The total size is uncertain, but the researcher downloaded a sample of about a terabyte in size, including 750 gigabytes of compressed email backups.
Backups of employees’ OneDrive accounts were also present and spanned the wide range of information that employees need to perform their jobs: email correspondence, system passwords, sales and marketing contact information, project specifications, and more.
3. LocalBlox Data Leak
A cloud storage repository containing information belonging to LocalBlox, a personal and business data search service, was left publicly accessible, exposing 48 million records of detailed personal information on tens of millions of individuals, gathered and scraped from multiple sources.
The above examples highlight the scale of potential damage if a cybercriminal exploited this leaked data. Data leak detection software provides the best possible chance of identifying and remediating data leakage before a breach occurs.
4. Microsoft Power Apps Data Leak
In 2021, UpGuard researchers discovered a critical misconfiguration within Microsoft Power Apps portals, allowing uninhibited public access to 38 million records. Major US corporations and government agencies were among the entities impacted by this mass exposure.
This misconfiguration was caused by a default setting that needed to be manually configured to avoid sensitive data exposure, a critical security requirement most users were unaware of.
Learn more about the Microsoft Power Apps data leak.
Data Leak Trends
Cloud computing is the future of data storage. Gartner predicts up to 60% of business entities will be leveraging cloud-managed offerings by 2022. Cloud services are vulnerable to cloud leaks, which are usually caused by misconfigured settings. These are easy to fix but often overlooked, resulting in large-scale leaks.
Organizations’ attack surfaces are expanding as they continue to outsource core operations to third-party vendors. A 2021 survey by SecureLink Ponemon Institute found that 51% of respondents had experienced a third-party data breach. Protecting just the internal attack surface is no longer enough on its own. Organizations must conduct due diligence on vendors by assessing their risk exposure accurately, extending to data leaks.
5 Benefits of Data Leak Detection Software
Below are the five main benefits of investing in a data leak detection solution.
1. Prevent Data Breaches
Data breaches are a probable cybersecurity threat for all organizations. An organization may have strong information security practices, but a weak link in the supply chain is all it takes.
Data leak detection software can search for supply chain data leaks affecting third-party vendors. Comprehensive data leak prevention provides a more robust defense against costly data breaches.
2. Prioritize Risk Remediation
Data leak detection software identifies which specific datasets are exposed publicly. Security teams can easily identify the high-risk leaks based on this information and remediate them accordingly.
3. Cost Efficiency
Data leak detection software automates the data leakage detection process. It also can be fine-tuned to search for targeted keywords, meaning less time is spent sifting through false positives.
Organizations can instead focus their efforts on strengthening their data protection strategies. Considering data breaches cost organizations millions of dollars in recovery costs and fines, investing in a data leak detection tool certainly provides a return on investment.
4. Enhance Third-Party Risk Management
Third-party data leaks are just as much a threat as internal ones. Data breaches are always the responsibility of the affected organization, meaning supply chain coverage is crucial. An advanced data leak detection solution, like UpGuard CyberResearch, notifies you when your vendors’ sensitive data is exposed to the Internet.
5. Prevent Future Data Leaks
Data leak detection software shows how an organization’s data was exposed. Security teams can use this information to enact better endpoint data leakage prevention and data loss prevention (DLP) strategies to prevent future data leaks.