The loss of data has become a serious concern for businesses. Read this blog to learn what exactly is data leakage, why should you care, and what can you do.
Dec 04, 2023
Data leakage, sometimes called information leakage, is the unauthorized passage of data from inside an organization to a destination outside its secured network.
Data leakage typically refers to electronic data, which can be transmitted via the web, or physical data, which can be stored on devices like USB sticks or hard drives. Data leakage is one of the most important aspects of cybersecurity that businesses need to consider when developing their cybersecurity posture because it can lead to a large volume of data theft, damage revenues and reputation, and even lead to legal consequence.
Developing an understanding of data leakage is the first step in successfully preparing for and building a strategy to effectively defend against it.
Data leakage can be dangerous if it’s left unaddressed. The more of your sensitive information is leaked, the more vulnerable you’ll be to a severe cyberattack that could cripple the organization.
Even if the leaked data doesn’t lead to a cyberattack, if it becomes public, it can undermine your company’s operations. Products or services in development that are not yet ready for the public might be exposed, giving competitors an unwelcome edge.
Over the last decade, more data has been created, bought, sold, and stolen than ever in history, which has also officially made it the most valuable currency on the market. As such, keeping your data secure should be a top priority for leaders, decision-makers, and employees in your organization.
Information Security vs. Cybersecurity
Data security practices fall under a specific arm of cybersecurity known as information security. While cybersecurity refers to the entire umbrella of security practices that an organization deploys, information security specifically addresses data security and data privacy.
This makes information security a critical aspect to prioritize in your cybersecurity strategy when considering data leak solutions.
The Human Factor in Information Leakage
Employees remain one of an organization’s largest vulnerabilities. This is why a comprehensive approach to security will include cybersecurity awareness and training for employees at onboarding and regularly throughout their tenure.
As sophisticated as hackers and the technology that they use have become, the most common entry point for cybercriminals is still the human employee. Social engineering scams like phishing or vishing, use fraudulent messaging to dupe victims into handing over their credentials. From there, the bad actor can log into network systems without raising suspicion and may even be able to move laterally.
One of the reasons phishing is such a successful technique is that it prays on people’s fears or creates a sense of urgency, in turn manipulating them into handing over data, often via malicious links in an email, text, or other message.
While data leaks and social engineering scams are different attack vectors targeted by cybercriminals, they share the common goals of data theft, unauthorized network access, and financial chaos.
Luckily, using a multi-factor authentication (MFA) protocol, and establishing a segmented network can help prevent phishers from doing damage, but ideally, your employees are well trained and your security software is up to date, so phishers won’t even get in the front gate.
The Role That Weak Employee Credentials Play
From a data leakage perspective, overlooking the importance and value of a strong password policy can prove to be the Achilles heel of the organization.
In fact, in a letter to business executives in 2021, the White House specifically recommended that organizations segment their data between departments in order to avoid a single breach leading to total data access.
In a separate study, IBM found that the average cost of a data breach for a business was $4.45 million, which is a 15% increase over 3 years.
This emphasizes the need for organizations to commit dedicated resources toward establishing a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy that works to prevent, identify, isolate, and neutralize cyberattacks and data leaks before they become problematic.
In addition to phishing scams and social engineering campaigns, organizations should also keep their password policies up to date with modern best practices. Brute force cyberattacks make use of an algorithm that systematically tests password variations in order to break into a network.
With this in mind, instilling a powerful password policy that forces employees to create unique, complex, and lengthy passwords, and update them on a regular basis, will make it very difficult for malicious actors to break in with a brute force tactic.
88% of passwords used in successful attacks consisted of 12 characters or less.
This demonstrates just how important it is to have a strong password policy in place.
What Does Data Leakage Mean for the Future?
Minimizing the volume of data that exits your organization without authorization should be a top priority in today’s economy of data and information.
The following are just a few tips on preventing data leakage from occurring.
Unified communication solutions (UCaaS), like Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams, are not born equal. For example, Teams and Slack will encrypt data at rest in their data centers, while Zoom only encrypted data in transit for several years. (They finally started employing end-to-end encryption towards the end of 2020.)
This is not to say one is better than the other, just that businesses should have a clear awareness of the security features that come with the tech and tools they use regularly. By cultivating a suite of tools you feel comfortable and secure using, your cybersecurity posture will start from a strong foundation.
Make sure you know exactly how your communication tools and their associated data protection methods affect your daily operations and data security.
2. Educate Your Workforce
The importance of employee security awareness really can't be overstated. Even with the most sophisticated cybersecurity technology working to protect your business, an unaware employee can be a wide-open entry point for the savvy cybercriminal.
When businesses invest in cybersecurity, awareness and training programs are sometimes forgotten. Establish cybersecurity awareness training as a standard aspect of new employee onboarding, and offer continual training on a regular basis to keep your staff up to date on the most common cyberattacks of the day.
The number of businesses investing in cybersecurity is an issue, with just 43% committed to developing a cybersecurity strategy as of the end of 2022.
3. Secure Endpoints
Endpoints can be mobile phones, laptops, tablets, or any device that’s network-enabled and accesses company data. Due to the expansion of operational technology, like smart thermostats, many organizational endpoints are left unsecured and are rarely updated after installation. That means critical security updates are often neglected.
Securing all of the endpoints that exist within an organization is vital because if one endpoint gets breached and the network isn’t properly segmented, the hack can easily spread laterally to other devices, siphon as much data as desired, and wreak havoc on the entire network.
If you need help securing your endpoints, you may consider a mobile device management service that can help you manage, update, and secure all of your network-enabled devices.
Wrapping Up on Data Leaks
Data leaks are a very real problem for businesses in the era of the data-driven economy. With cybercrime costing organizations more money every year, it’s critical for the modern organization to prioritize the establishment of a cybersecurity strategy that offers as much coverage as possible.
By identifying and mitigating data leaks, offering staff cybersecurity awareness training, and investing in both the necessary tools and professionals that execute cybersecurity strategies, you’ll be able to significantly improve your security posture while effectively minimizing your cyber risk.