Data is more valuable to businesses than ever. The companies that are disrupting their respective industries are frequently those with masses of data, that know just how to harness it to their competitive advantage. Data can help predict behavior, reduce operational costs, and drive customer purchases or engagement. Using smart machine learning algorithms and AI tools can turn this data from accumulated knowledge into something approaching wisdom.
But like any asset of value, customer and corporate data is also, unfortunately, a big target for cybercriminals. There are many reasons cybercriminals would wish to target data, whether it’s extortion through ransomware and leakware, or simply causing chaos. Personal data, for example, is a frequent target by attackers because it can be sold to other criminals or used for identity theft or account takeovers.
Those without proper safeguard measures, such as Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools, can find themselves in big trouble.
Data theft in action
Recently there has been a significant uptick in database credentials for sale on the Dark Web, a part of the World Wide Web that’s not discoverable using conventional search engines and requires specific software and authorization to access.
According to a ZDNet report, a popular extortion scheme that raged during 2020 involved hackers breaking into MySQL databases and downloading information, deleting the original data, and posting ransom notes, telling the rightful owners of the data that they must pay a ransom within a set time period if they wanted to recover it.
If this extortion attempt was not successful, the hackers then sold off the data to the highest bidder. As with many digital extortion attempts, the ransom is demanded in a cryptocurrency such as bitcoin. That makes it harder (if not impossible) to track the identity of the attacker or their whereabouts.
As the 2010s and 2020s progress, both the frequency and size of data breaches continues to ramp up — with some of the numbers involved being almost unimaginably large. For example, in 2017, the information solutions provider Equifax suffered a database breach affecting 143 million customers in the United States alone. The total number, factoring in 23 other countries around the world, was 14.5 million records — including names, addresses, Social Security numbers and more.
This was the result of malicious hackers hacking into the system using a consumer complaint web portal, a highly publicized vulnerability that had not been patched by the company.
There’s no single way that data breaches take place
Exploiting system vulnerabilities, such as is the case with SQL injections, is one popular method. SQL injections provide attackers with a way of attacking by injecting malicious code into the data entry boxes on a webpage or web application. SQL injections are used to target data-driven applications, and can be utilized to spoof identity, void transactions and change balances, give attackers administrative access, and change or delete existing data.
Human error and social-engineering attacks are also a significant cause of data breaches. Both involve a mistake made by an innocent user of the system, who has access to it. Human error could involve accidentally sending information to the wrong person or leaving online databases open, exposing whatever sensitive information they may contain. Social-engineering attacks, meanwhile, also rely on mistakes, but use manipulative means to try and trick people into making them. This could, for instance, include fooling someone into entering their access information into an online form under false pretences, such as posing as a legitimate source. Such attacks could also be used to introduce malware into a system.
Breaches could additionally come from malicious insiders, who use their legitimate access to cause damage.
Protecting against data breaches
It is vitally important that businesses protect against data breaches. As with the number of possible causes of data breaches, there is no one-stop-shop method for protecting against them. There are, however, best practices that can be employed by businesses wanting to safeguard their data.
To protect against breaches related to user behavior, businesses should carry out training to ensure that employees are aware of the threats they face, and knowledgeable enough to address these. Human error will always exist, but by carrying out the right training precautions it can be minimized.
Businesses should additionally make sure that software is patched, strong encryption is used on data (so that, even if it is somehow stolen, it will be useless to attackers), and enforce the use of multi-factor authentication and strong credentials.
Data Loss Prevention measures
One of the most comprehensive, protective moves you can make is investing in the right proactive tools for stopping attacks in their tracks. Data Loss Prevention (DLP) measures will detect and prevent data breaches, data exfiltration, and the unwanted destruction of data.
These tools can help monitor access to your most sensitive information, offer alerts and notifications when someone does attempt to access it, and use machine learning and other approaches to detect and stop internal and external threats.
Failing to protect your data and employ the necessary security measures can be devastating. Whether it’s lost trust on the part of customers, major fines from regulators, or just hard work going down the drain, no business wants to be put in this position.
Fortunately, there are more ways than ever to keep yourself safe and mitigate these risks. Make sure that you utilize them.