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A data breach is a security incident that exposes sensitive, protected or confidential information to an unauthorized individual. It could be information like credit card numbers, social security numbers, health records, personal emails, research or other proprietary material that is accessed, stolen or exposed without authorization. This information can be used for a variety of malicious purposes such as identity theft, financial fraud and exposure to embarrassing or damaging personal information.

Some examples of data breaches include a security researcher accidentally publishing a company’s private information on the internet, an employee unintentionally exposing sensitive files or the accidental loss or destruction of physical hard drives and paper documents. Data breaches can also result from hacking or malware, unauthorized access to systems by employees or contractors or other illegitimate activities.

Stolen or compromised credentials are the most common initial attack vector, accounting for 19 percent of all data breaches. Attackers may gain access to a company’s system by brute force attacks, buying stolen credentials on the dark web or using phishing scams to trick users into revealing their passwords or other information.

Data breaches can be devastating to both companies and individuals. Companies can lose customer trust and suffer long term damage to their reputation while individuals may face financial losses from identity theft or have to pay fines and penalties if a data breach impacts their tax returns. There are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of a data breach including implementing identity and access management (IAM) systems, encrypting information at rest and in transit and regular security audits of all systems connected to the network.