How to Spot and Prevent Data Leaks: Tips and Best Practices for Cyber Security

Data leaks are a modern-day nightmare. These days, most businesses operate online, and each of them handles personal, confidential, or sensitive information. Data leakages may occur when confidential information becomes accessible to unauthorized people that weren't meant to have access. Data leaks may result in an organization's failure, a financial loss of individuals, or even jeopardize national security. Hence, data protection is of utmost importance.

## What Exactly is a Data Leak?

A data leak is the unauthorized release or exposure of confidential information to an unintended audience. This information might be personal, financial, intellectual, or technical data. It might even happen due to human error, hacking, or a malicious act by one of the employees themselves. It is also known as a data breach or data spill.

The exposure of sensitive data may result in severe consequences, such as Identity fraud, identity theft, account takeover attacks, and financial damage.

## The Types of Data Leaks

There are various types of data leaks, each with its implication regarding the type of data compromised, the perpetrator of the act of the attack, and how the leak results in loss or damage.

### Insider Data Leaks

Insider data leaks arise from within the organization, from an employee or contractor with access to sensitive data. In most cases, insider data leaks are because of carelessness or a malicious act by an insider.

One famous example of this is the Edward Snowden case in 2013, an ex-CIA contractor who shared classified information with the public about the US government. This data breach brought the global public attention to government surveillance programs and privacy issues.

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### Accidental Data Leaks

Data leakages may happen unintentionally or due to a lack of security protocols. Examples of these types of data leaks include sending an email to the wrong recipient, forgetting to secure confidential files, or leaving personal data accessible on an unsecured device.

### Hacking and Cyber-Attacks

Hacking and Cyber-attacks are malicious acts. It means that someone steals the sensitive data of an organization from their databases or servers. Hackers may use various methods to gain access, which can range from passwords, phishing schemes, or software vulnerabilities. The 2020 Twitter hack saw the compromise of verified user accounts, including celebrities and politicians, allowing hackers to start a Bitcoin scam.

## Consequences of a Data Leak

The loss of confidential data can result in serious consequences for both individuals, organizations, and even nations. Each data breach has its repercussion, such as:

### Financial Loss

Financial transactions conducted online are dependent on the security of the systems that support them. Financial data breaches via online systems result in individuals losing significant amounts of money and can also cause businesses to go bankrupt. In early 2020, the Marriott hotel chain reported a data breach that exposed 5.2 million guests' personal information. Marriott faced a lawsuit legal for failing to protect its guests data.

### Loss of Trust

When a company experiences a data leak, it's clients lose trust in its security system, resulting in irreparable damage of the organization's brand image. In 2019, Capital One's credit card customers' data was breached, leading to the leak of over 100 million credit card applications with Social Security numbers, names, and addresses exposed. Capital One is yet to recover the trust of its customers.

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### Legal Consequences

Data breaches generate severe legal repercussions, as most individuals and businesses are required to comply with data protection regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). The regulatory authorities can impose severe financial penalties for non-compliance with these regulations. For instance, under GDPR, companies could incur fines of up to €20 million or 4% of their company's global turnover.

## How to Prevent Data Leaks

Organizations may deploy several protocols to prevent data leakages, such as:

### Encryption

Encryption involves transforming data into a secret code that requires a secret key to unscramble the message. Encryption has been a primary tool for transmitting confidential information securely.

### Educating Employees

According to a report on insider threats, 76% of employees posed severe insider threat risks, 42% of which were accidental. Employees' education can reduce the risk of accidental exposure of personal data. Managers should communicate company data protection policies, as well as creating awareness around common threats such as phishing scams.

### Password Strength

Use a strong password policy, for instance, that password length should at least be eight characters long and a combination of letters, symbols, and numbers.

### Update Software Regularly

Hackers, at times, look for vulnerabilities in outdated software. By updating regularly, businesses ensure that their digital infrastructure is in top working order, minimizing the risk of breaches.

In summary, data leaks are a concern to individuals and businesses alike. The significance of data protection is heightened in the digital age, where transferring, storing, and managing personal data is vital. Furthermore, every individual has a role to play in ensuring their data remains secure.

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