How Data Breaches Happen and What You Can Do About It

Data breaches occur when an unauthorized person or entity gains access to sensitive or confidential information. This can include personal information such as names, addresses, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and health records. Data breaches can happen in a variety of ways, including hacking, phishing attacks, malware, and insider threats such as employee theft or accidental disclosure.

The impact of data breach can be significant, both for individuals and organizations. For individuals, a data breach can lead to identity theft, financial loss, and other forms of fraud. For organizations, data breach can result in damage to reputation, loss of customer trust, legal and regulatory fines, and significant financial losses from remediation efforts and lost revenue.

In recent years, data breach have become increasingly common, affecting businesses of all sizes and industries. It is essential for small businesses to take steps to protect their sensitive data and prepare for the possibility of a data breach, including implementing strong cybersecurity measures, providing employee training on data security best practices, and having a plan in place to respond to a breach if it occurs.

How do Data Breaches Happen?

Phishing Attacks

The most common initial attack vector used by cyber attackers is phishing. Phishing is a social engineering technique that involves tricking users into revealing sensitive information, such as passwords, by sending fake emails, text messages, or social media messages that appear to be from legitimate sources. Phishing emails can be highly convincing, using logos, language, and formatting that imitate genuine emails from banks, e-commerce sites, or social media platforms. Attackers can use phishing emails to gain access to a system by tricking a user into clicking a malicious link or opening an infected attachment.

Malware & Malicious Code

Another common attack vector is the use of malware. Malware is malicious software that is designed to gain unauthorized access to a system or steal sensitive data. Malware can be delivered through various means, including phishing emails, infected software downloads, or malicious websites. Malware can take various forms, including viruses, Trojans, spyware, and ransomware, among others. Once installed on a system, malware can steal sensitive data, modify or delete files, or encrypt data and demand a ransom for its release.

Password Attacks

Password attacks are also common attack vectors used by cyber attackers. Attackers can use various techniques to steal or guess passwords, including brute force attacks, dictionary attacks, or social engineering. Brute force attacks involve using automated tools to try millions of possible password combinations until the correct one is found. Dictionary attacks involve using pre-computed lists of commonly used passwords to guess a user's password. Social engineering involves tricking users into revealing their passwords by posing as a legitimate service provider or IT support personnel.

Insider Threats

Insider threats are another form of attack vector that can be challenging to detect and prevent. Insider threats involve employees or other trusted individuals who misuse their access privileges to steal sensitive data or cause damage to systems. Insider threats can be accidental, such as when an employee accidentally sends sensitive information to the wrong recipient, or intentional, such as when an employee steals data for personal gain. Insider threats can be challenging to prevent because trusted individuals often have legitimate access to systems and data, making it difficult to distinguish between normal and abnormal behavior.


Negligence is another form of attack vector that can lead to data breach. Negligence can take various forms, such as failing to apply security patches, using weak passwords, or leaving sensitive information unsecured. Negligence can also occur when employees mishandle sensitive information or fail to follow security policies and procedures.

System Vulnerabilities and Software Bugs

Data breaches can also occur due to system vulnerabilities or software bugs that can be exploited by cyber attackers. Zero-day exploits are vulnerabilities in software or hardware that are unknown to the software developers, making them difficult to detect and exploit. Cyber attackers can use zero-day exploits to gain unauthorized access to systems or to steal sensitive data.

Zero-Day Attacks

Zero-day exploits are vulnerabilities in software or hardware that are unknown to software developers, making them difficult to detect and exploit. Cyber attackers use zero-day exploits to gain unauthorized access to computer systems or steal sensitive data.

What Happens When an Attacker is Inside My Network?

How Do Data Breaches Happen and What You Can Do About ItWhen an attacker gains access to your network, they can cause extensive destruction and potentially steal sensitive information. Attackers may take personal details, financial details, and intellectual property without permission. They can use this data for identity theft, financial fraud or even selling it on the dark web.Attackers perform reconnaissance on your network to identify vulnerabilities and potential targets for future attacks.They can also map out your network infrastructure and pinpoint crucial systems and data. 

Once inside your network, attackers can escalate their privileges and gain access to additional systems and data, making it more challenging to contain the attack, or delete it, causing disruption to business operations and financial loss. They can also install malware on your network, which could be used to steal data, disrupt operations and launch further attacks, or use your network to recruit additional computers and devices into a botnet, which can be used to launch further attacks or conduct criminal activities.

Installing a backdoor on your network is one way for attackers to retain access even after the initial attack has been discovered and contained. It is not uncommon for cyberthieves to remain undetected on a network fHow Do Data Breaches Happen and What You Can Do About Itor weeks, months, or even years before executing their malicious activities. In fact, the 2021 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report found that the median time it takes to detect a cyberattack is 61 days, and that is only for attacks that were detected.

Advanced persistent threats (APTs) have the potential to remain undetected for an extended period, with some estimates suggesting they could go undetected for months or even years. Due to their stealthy and evasive nature, APTs often employ sophisticated techniques to conceal their presence and stay undetected for extended periods of time. This emphasizes the significance of implementing robust security measures, monitoring and detection capabilities, as well as regular security audits and testing to guarantee any malicious activity is detected promptly and appropriately.

How Do I Know If I Have Been Involved In a Data Breach?

It can be difficult to know if you have been involved in a data breach, as you may not alwaysHow Do Data Breaches Happen and What You Can Do About It be notified by the affected company. However, here are some steps you can take to check if your personal information has been compromised:

  • Check your email: If a company that has your personal information has experienced a data breach, they may send an email notification to affected customers. Check your email, including your spam folder, for any notifications from companies you have accounts with.
  • Monitor your accounts: Check your financial accounts and credit reports regularly for any unauthorized activity or suspicious charges. If you see any activity that you do not recognize, report it to the appropriate financial institution immediately.
  • Use a data breach tool: There are several online tools that can help you check if your personal information has been compromised in a data breach. These tools search databases of known breaches and can alert you if your information has been found.
  • Contact the company: If you suspect that your personal information may have been compromised in a data breach, contact the company directly to inquire about the breach and whether your information was affected.
  • Be vigilant: Be cautious about any suspicious emails, calls, or messages asking for personal information. Scammers often use data breach as an opportunity to trick people into giving away their personal information.

It's important to note that even if you haven't been notified of a data breach, it's still a good idea to take steps to protect your personal information, such as using strong and unique passwords, enabling two-factor authentication, and being cautious about sharing personal information online.

Microsoft Protection Is Limited

Microsoft 365 security issues are nothing new, however the limitations of the static, single-layered built-in protection has only been magnified by an increased reliance on the cloud platform. Additionally, Microsoft has consistently proven it lacks the ability to protect users from credential phishing and account takeovers. EOP’s security defenses are unable to reliably identify and block targeted spear phishing, ransomware and zero-day attacks, and 85% of Microsoft 365 users have experienced an email data breach over the past year. Making Microsoft 365 safe for business requires additional layered security defenses that prevent both known and emerging attacks, as opposed to responding to them once the damage has been done.

Keep Learning About Data Breaches

How Do Data Breaches Happen and What You Can Do About ItCyber attackers are often motivated by financial gain, political or social activism, or intellectual property theft. Cyberthieves can sell stolen data on the dark web to other criminals, use it for identity theft or fraud, or ransom it for profit. State-sponsored cyber attackers can steal sensitive information for political or military purposes or to gain a competitive advantage in the global economy. Cyber attackers can also steal intellectual property, such as trade secrets or research and development data, to gain an advantage in the marketplace.

By taking the steps outlined in this article, you can help protect yourself from further harm and minimize the impact of the data breach on your personal information. It's important to stay vigilant and take steps to protect your information in the future, such as practicing good cybersecurity habits and staying informed about data breach and other security threats.

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