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 various ways, including hacking, phishing email attacks, malware, and insider threats such as employee theft or accidental disclosure.

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

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

How Do Data Breaches Happen?

Phishing Attacks

The most common initial attack vector used by cyber attackers is phishing. A phishing attack tricks 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 are a social engineering technique and can be compelling, using logos, language, and formatting that imitate genuine emails from banks, e-commerce sites, or social media platforms. Attackers can use spear phishing emails to access a system by convincing users to click on a malicious link or open an infected attachment.

Malware & Malicious Code

Another common data breach tactic is the use of malware. Malware is malicious software designed to gain unauthorized access to a system or steal sensitive data. It can be delivered via spear phishing emails, infected software downloads, or malicious websites and can take various forms, including viruses, Trojans, spyware, and ransomware. 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 practices used by cybercriminals. 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 passwords by posing as a legitimate service provider or IT support personnel.

Insider Threats

Insider threats are an attack 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. Such email security breaches can be accidental, such as when an employee 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 distinguishing between normal and abnormal behavior difficult.


Negligence is another type of phishing attack that can lead to data breaches. Failing to apply security patches, using weak passwords, or leaving sensitive information unsecured are various ways in which negligence can lead to an email security attack. Negligence can also occur when employees must handle sensitive data or follow email security policies and procedures but don’t do so to the extent that they should.

System Vulnerabilities and Software Bugs

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

Zero-Day Attacks

Zero-day exploits are software or hardware vulnerabilities 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?

Attackers who gain access to your network can cause extensive destruction and potenHow Do Data Breaches Happen and What You Can Do About Ittially steal sensitive information. They may take personal details, financial details, and intellectual property without permission. Such data can be used for identity theft, financial fraud, or even making money on the dark web. Additionally, they have the capability to monitor your network to identify vulnerabilities and potential targets for future attacks, as well as map your network infrastructure and pinpoint crucial systems and data. All of this can be done while preparing for email security breaches.

Once inside your network, attackers can escalate their privileges and gain access to additional systems and data, making it more challenging to contain or delete the attack, disrupting business operations, and causing financial loss. They can also install malware on your network, which can be used in the same way, as well as to recruit additional computers and devices into a botnet, which can launch other 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 cyber thieves to remain undetected on a network for weeks, months, or even years before executing their malicious activities. 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 those that have been discovered.

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 mysterious nature, APTs often employ sophisticated techniques to conceal their presence and stay undetected for extended periods.

This emphasizes the significance of implementing robust email security policies and procedures, monitoring and detection capabilities, regular email security audits, and email security testing to guarantee any malicious activity is detected promptly and appropriately.

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

Knowing if you have been involved in a data breach can be difficult, as the affected cHow Do Data Breaches Happen and What You Can Do About Itompany may not always notify you. However, here are some steps you can take to conduct a personal data leak check:

  • 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 messages from companies where you have an account.
  • Monitor your accounts: Regularly check your financial accounts and credit reports for any unauthorized activity or suspicious charges. If you see any activity you do not recognize, report it to the appropriate financial institution immediately.
  • Use a data breach tool: Several online tools can help you check if your personal information has been compromised in a data breach. These tools search databases of known breaches and alert you if your information has been found during account takeovers or email security breaches.
  • Contact the company: If you suspect 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 about suspicious emails, calls, or messages asking for personal information. Scammers often use data breaches 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, protecting your personal information is still a good idea. Use methods like creating strong and unique passwords, enabling two-factor authentication, and being cautious about sharing personal information online in order to protect yourself and your company.

Microsoft Protection Is Limited

Microsoft 365 email security issues are nothing new. However, the limitations of the static, single-layered built-in protection have only been magnified by an increased reliance on the cloud email platform. Additionally, Microsoft has consistently proven it cannot protect users from credential phishing and account takeovers. Exchange Online Program’s (EOP) security defenses cannot 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 known and emerging attacks, as opposed to responding to them once the damage has been done.

Keep Learning About Data Breaches

Cyber attackers are often motivated by financial gain, political or social activism, or intellectuaHow Do Data Breaches Happen and What You Can Do About Itl property theft. Cyberthieves can sell stolen data on the dark web to other criminals, use it for identity fraud, or profit from it as ransom. 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 edge 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 protect your information in the future, such as practicing good cybersecurity habits and using proper cybersecurity tools, and staying informed about data breaches and other email security threats.

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