Data Breach vs Data Exposure

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Data breaches have become increasingly common and costly as the world continues to work from home. According to CyberTalk, in 2021, 36 billion company records were exposed, and data breach costs soared to $4.24 million. Even as the average cost of a security breach increased, the shortage of cybersecurity professionals has reached 72 million. Internal mistakes heavily contribute to the increase of data breaches and data exposure. 85% of security breaches involve human elements.

The threat of a costly data breach or data exposure is growing, but what’s the difference between them? How can you best protect your company and your customer’s sensitive data?  

Data Breach  

A data breach happens when a company or individual’s information is accessed by a malicious individual. Often this sensitive data is used to steal money, compromise data, or be sold. This is often done by exploiting vulnerabilities in security systems or through human error. Human errors are common causes of data security breaches.  

Data breaches allow malicious actors to access secured data, and they can be achieved through many kinds of attacks. These attacks can include malware infections, unauthorized access via brute force, phishing attacks, password exploitation attacks, or Internal Security Breaches.

Data Exposure  

Data exposure is the loss of sensitive information through inadvertent exposure. This differs from a data breach in which sensitive data is stolen in an attack from a malicious actor. Sensitive data exposure is a result of an action, or lack of action, on behalf of a company. Often this happens with online information that is not properly secured and safeguarded, which makes it easy to access.

Examples of data exposure include unsecured online systems and applications or data that has been accidentally uploaded to the incorrect database. Data exposure can also be data that is easy to access because of weak encryption, no encryption, or software flaws. Data exposure can tank brand reputation as it is often seen as the fault of the company.

Data Exposure and Data Breach Prevention 

Cybersecurity best practices will help prevent both data breaches and data exposure incidents. Here are some of the best practices that will secure your data:  

Company Password Policies  

Everyone in your company should use proper password practices. Make sure you have clear password policies. Require long complex passwords, different passwords for different accounts, secure password storage, and take advantage of multi-factor authentication when possible.  

Phishing/Social Engineering Training  

According to CyberTalk, human error is responsible for 95% of security breaches, and training to address human error should be prioritized. A staggering 20% of employees click on phishing links, and 5% of those are willing to enter credentials on the phishing website.  

Attacks have become more personalized, with spear-phishing attackers utilizing personal information found on social media sites like LinkedIn. This information is used to create personalized attacks to access sensitive data through social engineering. Don’t let your security system rely on untrained employees. Human error should be minimized with training and strict verification policies.  

Restricted Access  

To further minimize the risk of human error, restricting access to sensitive data can minimize vulnerabilities. Set up various levels of access so that only trustworthy individuals who need to interact with sensitive data can. You can also reduce access further by not storing sensitive data (like credit card information) internally.  

Encrypt or Tokenize Sensitive Data  

In the case of a data breach, all sensitive data should be secured. Sensitive data can be secured either through tokenization or encryption. These methods work differently and should be used for different types of data. 

If you interact with sensitive structured data, like cardholder data or personal data, tokenization is an irreversible way to secure this data. Encryption, while reversible, is the best choice for unstructured data like sensitive files, emails, audio, or video. Find a solution that fits your needs to ensure your data remains safe even if malicious actors gain unauthorized access. 

Implementing Effective Security Practices  

All your security software should be up to date to prevent a data breach or data exposure. Security software like firewalls and VPNs should be kept up to date. Understanding the sensitive data you need to secure will help you find the tools you need to keep it safe. If you interact with particularly sensitive data, like payment information or personal information, it should be encrypted or tokenized. All Third-Party connections should also be carefully monitored for potential threats.

Evolve Alongside Threats  

Create a comprehensive security plan that analyzes the storage and security of sensitive data. Cybersecurity, as well as your business, is constantly changing and evolving. Your security system should evolve to keep up with the changes in your company and growing threats.  

Changes in your company, like new employees, new data, and new systems, should be analyzed for potential issues. Changing threats are harder to expect, but you can evaluate weaknesses and keep up to date with techniques used by cybercriminals. If you’ve suffered a data breach, include solutions to the identified threat as you recover from your data breach. Continually audit your security plan, monitor access to sensitive data, and look for innovative solutions.

To mitigate risk from data exposure and data breaches, have a security plan that focuses on both external and internal threats. The risk of data exposure can be mitigated by auditing internal processes and data storage. The risk of data breaches can also be mitigated with internal procedures and updated cybersecurity defenses. Losing sensitive information through inadvertent exposure or malicious actors can harm your company’s reputation and cost millions.

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