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A data breach occurs when confidential, private or protected information is copied, transmitted, viewed or stolen by someone unauthorized to access it. Depending on the type of sensitive information involved, a breach can have devastating effects for both companies and their clients.

In a massive breach of personal data in 2021, hackers stole the contact details of more than 500 million guests staying at Marriott hotels. Among the information that was compromised was passport numbers, credit card information and email addresses. It was one of the biggest breaches ever uncovered and the breach led to class action lawsuits, fines, regulatory inquiries and damage to reputation.

Malicious actors are behind many data breaches. They may be state sponsored or hired by a company’s competitor or they might simply be independent opportunists seeking to steal intellectual property such as research, product designs or source code.

Businesses need to take steps to reduce the risk of a data breach. For example, password protect all devices and use time out functions to lock systems after periods of inactivity. All software should be updated regularly and encrypt data “at rest” (when stored) as well as in transit. The latest AI and automation technologies can also identify threats before they result in a data breach.