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Data Breach

A data breach is the unauthorized exposure, disclosure or loss of personal information such as names, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers and email addresses. Cybercriminals hack into systems to steal this data, and companies must notify people whose records are involved when a breach occurs. In many jurisdictions, the company that experiences the breach must also contact law enforcement if it suspects criminal activity.

Most data breaches are caused by human error. When employees mishandle corporate assets like laptops or smartphones, connect to unsecured Wi-Fi networks or download phishing apps on work systems, they expose sensitive data to hackers. When employees misplace devices that contain information like a work smartphone left in an airport, for example, it exposes the device to hackers who could view and copy that data.

Another source of data breaches is software vulnerabilities. Hackers exploit flaws in computer programs by inserting malware, which could be used to spy on the victim’s activities and send data back to hackers, or steal credentials from victims through a form of attack known as “credential stuffing.”

Finally, malicious insiders can commit data breaches for criminal motives such as profiting from stolen data or engaging in espionage. These attackers gain access to a network by exploiting software vulnerabilities, conducting phishing attacks and stealing weak passwords. Attackers can then encrypt the compromised data and sell it on the black market or contact an organization and demand ransom to unlock their systems. Prevention efforts include educating workers about cybersecurity best practices and mandating the use of security tools that help them identify threats, report suspicious emails, links or attachments to their managers and prevent them from accidentally exposing data.