A Primer on Data Breaches
You’re probably already familiar with what a data breach is, and maybe you know a bit of how they can occur, but you may be surprised at the variety of attacks that can result in a data breach.
Data breaches are becoming widespread, so much so that few consumers would be surprised if they saw another instance in the headlines of their personal information being exposed. Even the world’s top password manager, LastPass, suffered a breach in September 2022 that resulted in data for millions of users being exposed.
Every cybersecurity event can be costly for an organization, as they often have to organize remediation and sometimes pay fines related to data exposure. In the past, reputational damage has been a concern, but as the visibility of data breaches at companies increases, some business leaders are starting to believe that customers won’t stop using a service or buying from a company just because the data was exposed. Even if that’s true in some cases, the costs of downtime from business disruption, direct ransomware payments, and fines from compliance violations can eclipse even the largest reputational damage.
However, with so many organizations experiencing data breaches, it’s worth exploring the topic in greater detail.
How Do Data Breaches Happen?
A data breach occurs when a cybersecurity attack is carried out using malicious software, physical breaches, or social engineering strategies. Since the dawn of the Internet, many organizations have sought ways of eliminating the risk of a cybersecurity attack by blocking software that would compromise their systems. With the growing sophistication of firewalls and other protective antivirus software, cybersecurity threats have increasingly relied on strategies that try to get your employees to act in compromising ways. These strategies still rely on software in many cases, but instead of sending it directly into the system to mine information, cyber attackers will attempt to leverage employee credentials to access your servers under the radar of your organization’s firewall.
How Can I Prevent a Data Breach?
The short answer? You can’t; given a long-enough time horizon, your company will see a successful cyber-attack that results in your organization’s data becoming compromised.
However, just because there’s no 100 percent guarantee that you’ll avoid a data breach doesn’t mean that you’ve got to roll out the welcome mat to cybercriminals. In fact, utilizing a multi-layered approach to cybersecurity is the best way to delay that inevitability as long as possible. Most organizations utilize some combination of firewalls, cybersecurity training, and secure data management policies to decrease the chances of a successful breach occurring. This is known as a defense-in-depth strategy.
Although most organizations utilize a version of best practices, they can often fall short without even realizing it. Software that isn’t configured correctly can leave sensitive information open to a simple search by cybercriminals or offer an opening that can be easily exploited without too much effort on the part of bad actors. It’s still worth taking the fundamental precautions, but it’s also critical to think about what needs to be done before, during, and after a breach.
When a Breach Happens
Taking steps on the front end to defend your organization’s IT infrastructure is critical, but it’s equally important to ensure that there’s a plan in place to mitigate the damage once an attack makes it through.
Every good mitigation plan should begin with how you’re going to evaluate your system for intrusions. While it may sound cumbersome to constantly review your organization’s IT environment for potential breaches, early detection of compromised server can enable you to minimize the impact by making faster and more effective decisions about mitigation and response.
Your organization needs to establish priorities for where it will focus its mitigation efforts and how it will go about reporting the breach to the respective parties. Once a breach is identified, you’ll also need to have a plan for determining how it was accomplished and what will be done in the future to ensure a similar incident won’t occur in the future. You want to ensure that your organization can continue functioning through the event and after you’ve resecured your IT environment.
However, perhaps more important than organizing a mitigation strategy for a data breach, early detection will enable your organization to stop an intruder from compromising the entirety of your company’s IT environment. While the damage to part of your system could be bad, stopping a breach early will keep the ship from going under entirely.
Creating a Resilient IT Environment
Data breaches will come, and they will impact your organization, but you can significantly reduce how damaging a cybersecurity event becomes. Taking steps to delay that time when a cyber criminal will successfully breach your organization’s defenses can help buy valuable time when you can establish an effective plan to bounce back after.
A data breach is a flashpoint for your organization, and with careful planning, it can quickly die away without sending your organization down in flames.