Definition of a security breach
Any incident that allows unauthorized access to computer data or networks is a security breach. This can lead to information being accessed by unauthorized persons. It occurs most often when an intruder can bypass security systems.
Technically, there is a difference between a security breach or a data breach. A security breach is essentially a break-in. However, a data breach refers to the cybercriminal gaining access to information. Imagine a burglar. The security breach occurs when the burglar climbs through a window. The data breach occurs when the burglar grabs your wallet or laptop and then takes it with him.
Confidential information is extremely valuable. This information is often sold online, such as names and credit card numbers, which can then be used to commit identity theft and fraud. Companies can be hit with huge financial losses due to cybersecurity breaches. Major corporations pay an average of $4m to cover this cost.
It is important to differentiate between the security breach and security incident definitions. A security incident could be a malware attack, DDOS attack, or an employee taking a laptop with them in a taxi. However, if the incident does not result in data loss or access to the network, it would not be considered a security breach.
Examples of security breaches
It is always a big news story when a large organization suffers a security breach. Here are some security breach examples:
- Equifax – In 2017, the website application vulnerability that led to the loss of personal information for 145 million Americans was caused by the company. Their names, SSNs, and driver’s license numbers were all affected. Although the attacks took place over three months from May to July and were not reported until September, security breaches were discovered.
- Yahoo – 3 billion user accounts were compromised by hackers in 2013 after a phishing attack gave hackers access to the network.
- eBay – was the victim of a serious breach in 2014. Although PayPal customers’ credit card information wasn’t at risk, passwords of many customers were compromised. The company quickly emailed its customers to request that they change their passwords to ensure security.
- Dating site – Ashley Madison was a dating site that targeted married couples who wanted to have affairs. It was hacked in 2015. Hackers then leaked a large number of customer information via the internet. Customers whose names had been leaked began to be targeted by extortionists; unconfirmed reports link a number of suicides to the data breach.
- Facebook – Facebook was hit by software bugs that led to the loss of 29 million users’ personal data in 2018. This was an especially embarrassing security breach, as the compromised accounts also included Mark Zuckerberg’s.
- Marriott Hotels – Marriott Hotels reported a security breach that affected up to 500,000,000 customer records in 2018. The breach was discovered two years after the hacking of its guest reservation system.
- Czech company Avast – Most embarrassing, however, is the fact that being a cybersecurity company doesn’t automatically make you immune to security breaches. In 2019, Czech company Avast reported a security breach where a hacker was able to compromise an employee’s VPN credentials. The breach did not threaten customer information but instead was intended to insert malware into Avast products.
In order to preserve consumer confidence, security breaches were kept secret by many companies a decade ago. This is becoming less common. The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations in the EU) requires companies to inform the appropriate authorities about a breach. The GDPR was only 18 months old and had already been in place for over 160,000 data breaches, with over 250 notifications per day.
Different types of security breaches
There are many types of security breaches, depending on who has access to the system.
- Exploit – An exploit targets a system vulnerability such as an outdated operating system. For example, legacy systems that have not been updated in companies where obsolete or no longer supported versions of Microsoft Windows are being used are vulnerable to exploits.
- Weak passwords – It is possible to crack or guess weak passwords. Some people still use the password, while pa$$word is not much more secure.
- Malware attacks – Malware attacks, like phishing emails, can be used to gain access. To allow malicious software to spread throughout the network, it takes just one employee to click on a link within a phishing mail.
- Drive-by downloads – Downloads by drive-by Use viruses or malware delivered via a compromised or spoofed site.
- social engineering – Access can also be gained through social engineering. An example is when an intruder calls an employee pretending to be part of the IT helpdesk at the company and asks for the password to ‘fix’ the computer.
The security breaches that we have already mentioned involved a variety of techniques to gain access to networks. Yahoo was the victim of a phishing attack and Facebook was hacked using an exploit.
Although we have been focusing on security breaches that affect large organizations, these same security vulnerabilities can also be applied to individual computers and other devices. Although you are less likely to be hacked with an exploit, many computer users have been affected either by malware downloaded in a software package or via phishing attacks. The use of public Wi-Fi networks and weak passwords can result in internet communications being compromised.
What to do if you experience a security breach
If you are a customer of a large company and you discover that there has been a security breach or that your computer has been compromised, you should act fast to protect yourself. A security breach in one account can put other accounts at risk. This is especially true if the passwords are shared or transactions are made between them.
- Notify any banks or financial institutions – if you believe your financial information has been compromised.
- Update your passwords – You should also change any security questions or answers, as well as PIN codes that are attached to your account.
- A credit freeze might be something you consider – This prevents anyone from using your data to steal your identity or borrow under your name.
- Review your credit report to see if someone is using your information to apply for debt.
- Find out what data was stolen – This will give you an idea about the situation. If tax information or SSNs are stolen, you need to act quickly to protect your identity. This is far more serious than losing your credit card information.
- Do not directly respond to any request from a company for personal data following a data breach. It could be a social engineering attempt. You can read the news and visit the website of the company to verify that the requests are legit.
- Watch out for other social engineering attacks – A criminal could access hotel accounts and ask customers for feedback about their stay. After establishing trust, the criminal may offer to refund parking fees and request the customer’s credit card number to complete the payment. If the caller is convincing, most customers won’t hesitate to give these details.
- Keep an eye on your accounts for any suspicious activity – You must report any suspicious transactions and information security incidents immediately.
How to prevent a security breach
While no one is immune from a data breach; good computer security habits can make it less likely that you will be affected and help you to survive the breach. These tips will help you avoid hackers compromising your personal security on computers and other devices.
- Create strong passwords – Create strong passwords that combine random strings of lower and upper-case letters, numbers, and symbols. These passwords are more difficult than simple ones. Avoid using passwords that are easy for others to guess like birthdays or family names. Keep your passwords safe with a Password Manager
- Use different passwords for different accounts – A hacker can gain access to all accounts if he has the same password. Only one account is at risk if they use different passwords.
- It is better to close accounts that you don’t use than leave them dormant. This reduces your vulnerability to security breaches. You might not realize it is compromised if you don’t use it. It could also be used as a backdoor to other accounts.
- Change your passwords regularly – Many security breaches that have been publicly reported are long-term in nature and have not been reported for years. Regular password changes can reduce the risk of unannounced data breaches.
- When you are ready to throw away a computer, make sure that the hard drive is completely wiped. Use a data destruction tool to erase the entire drive and overwrite all data. The drive can also be successfully erased by installing a new operating system.
- Back up your files – Ransomware demands that files be made available to users again after a data breach results in encryption. Your data will be safe if you have a backup on a removable hard drive.
- Secure your phone – Set up screen locks and make sure to update your phone’s software frequently. Your phone should not be jailbroken or root. Hackers can install their own software on your phone and change its settings by rooting it.
- Secure your computer – Secure your computer and other devices with anti-virus and antimalware software.
- Please be careful what you click – Unsolicited email messages that include links to websites may be phishing attempts. They may claim to be from your contact list. You should verify that attachments and links are genuine before opening them.
- Secure HTTPS – Use the secure HTTPS protocol to access your accounts.
- Keep an eye on your credit reports and bank statements to ensure you are protected – The dark web can reveal stolen data years after the initial data breach. This could lead to identity theft attempts long after you have forgotten about the data breach that compromised your account.
- Be aware of the value and privacy of your personal data – Don’t share it unless absolutely necessary. Many websites are seeking out too much information about you. Why would a business journal require your exact date and birth? Or an auction site your SSN?
You wouldn’t think of opening your home to strangers all day. Your computer should be treated the same. Secure your network access, personal data, and passwords. Don’t allow hackers to gain access to your computer.