What is data leakage?
The simple answer is when sensitive data is purposely or accidentally leaked. This could mean, in a variety of ways, from data being exposed on the internet, physically or via lost laptops or hard drives. Data leakage could allow cybercriminals unauthorised access to sensitive data without much effort. So, knowing data leakage prevention steps your organisation can take today will protect your enterprise tomorrow.
Data leak vs data breach
Although the terms data leak and data breach are used interchangeably, they are, in fact, two completely different things.
- A data breach happens when an attacker can secure sensitive information.
- A data leak stems from poor data security practices, inaction by an individual or accidental action.
Once a data leak has been identified, the exposed data can be used to strategise a cyberattack. Therefore, detecting and remediating data leaks before they are discovered will reduce data breaches significantly.
A cloud leak is also a common form of data leakage. A cloud leak can occur when a cloud data storage service, like Amazon Web Service’s S3, exposes sensitive data to the internet. Although Amazon Web Service’s S3 secure buckets by default, it’s still advised to check S3 permissions as the security can be flawed.
Cybercriminals and data leaks
The most valuable steal for a cybercriminal is personally identifiable information (PII). This includes credit card details, social security numbers and any other details that could result in identity theft. Other targets include medical or protected health information (PHI) and company information.
Company information is probably the most dangerous to be exposed in a data leak because this information is critical to your business and its ability to compete. There are also a whole host of other data sources that are at risk during a data leak. These include analytics, psychographic data, behavioural data, modelled data and any other form of data that could prove financially lucrative to hackers. Therefore, it is essential to know data leakage prevention techniques you can implement to avoid the loss of data and all the costs that come with data breaches.
Why do data leaks occur?
When data is processed, it’s effectively running through a chain of custody. This chain could be as simple as running directly from your head to the computer or be much more complex, like flowing through multiple cloud services across many geographies. Poor cybersecurity measures and application security in any part of the chain of custody can cause a data leak. This is why vendor risk management and third-party risk management are fundamental to any business.
Let’s take a look at the four most common ways that data leaks can be exploited:
- Social engineering
Phishing attacks are probably the most effective social engineering campaign. This is when a cybercriminal sends a fake and targeted email based on known information to impersonate a person, company or entity. Social engineering attacks are used by hackers to steal information to use against a target they wouldn’t otherwise know.
Personally identifiable information (PII) can be used for doxxing. Doxxing is the practice of stealing and publishing a person’s personal information against their will. It can be used in cases of stalking, vendettas, political extremism or harassment and can cause real harm to people.
- Surveillance and intelligence
Psychographic data is used to predict and shape opinions. Political campaigns use psychographic data to win votes, and businesses use it to secure new customers.
Data leaks can be used to cause disruption to business operations. The information exposed in a data leak can have dramatic consequences for businesses, governments and individuals alike.
Data leakage prevention steps
Data leakage prevention is now one of the most important cybersecurity measures in today’s digital age. The way data is handled differs from industry to industry, business to business and person to person. Organisations often have rules and regulations in place to protect themselves and to prevent data leaks – these come in the guise of guidelines such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, GDPR or FERPA.
It’s also important to ensure that your organisation and its employees follow protection and prevention standards on a daily basis. The most common ways to ensure data leakage prevention include the following:
1. Validate cloud storage configurations
The amount of data being moved in and out of cloud storage is increasing rapidly due to the expansion of use. It’s important to ensure that cloud storage configurations have been validated at deployment and during their time hosting sensitive data. Continuous validations minimise the risks and can notify you if public access occurs.
2. Automate process controls
Validation can become difficult to police if adopted on a larger scale. Automated process controls act as executable documentation that will ensure all cloud storage is secured and stays secure at all times.
3. Monitor third-party risk
Your external vendors can expose your information just as easily as you can. Your organisation will be held accountable for any data leak, even if it wasn’t directly leaked by you. This is why third-party cybersecurity risk assessments are just as important as information risk management and in-house cybersecurity measures for data leakage prevention.
RiskXchange and data leakage prevention
RiskXchange is one of the firms leading the fight against cybercrime, coming up with novel solutions to everyday problems experienced at the hands of hackers. With a 360-degree cybersecurity risk rating management approach, RiskXchange can help companies of all sizes prevent data leaks and data breaches.
With full visibility over your ecosystems’ entire attack surface in near real-time, you can regularly monitor and mitigate risks to prevent unnecessary exposures. Our passive data collection methods are effective and have no impact on your network performance. Using data-driven insights for data breaches and data leakage prevention is the best way to reduce an attack surface and prevent cyberattacks.
Get in touch with RiskXchange to find out more about what is data leakage and data leakage prevention tips.