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What Is Data Leakage? Protecting Your Data with DLP

by Chris Brook on Friday March 3, 2023

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Although data leakage doesn’t pose the same danger as data breaches, it can still threaten organizations. Since any unauthorized transmission of data is a security violation, it is imperative organizations protect their data with data protection software like Data Loss Prevention (DLP).

What Is Data Leakage?

Data leakage is when data or information is accidentally exposed, disclosed, or divulged to those without authorization to access it.

As opposed to data breaches that occur due to compromise from an external source, data leakage originates internally. Unlike data breaches, data leakage isn’t always due to nefarious intent. For example, it can occur in machine learning algorithms while developing predictive models.

While data leakages occur accidentally or due to carelessness, they are viewed as a security flaw or violation. This is because the area from which data escapes is typically a secured network perimeter, which ought to have the wherewithal to prevent it in the first place.

However, criminals can take advantage of a data leak by exploiting it to launch more pernicious, larger-scale attacks. So, while a data leakage might have innocuous origins, its impact can be devastating in the form of identity theft, ransomware propagation, and providing a pathway to data breaches.

What Are the Causes of a Data Leak?

Data leaks are due to various reasons, such as the following:

Poor data security

Without employing standard security best practices, an organization increases its chances of experiencing data leakage. They include not properly vetting third-party applications, which can expose the company to supply-chain attacks.

Recycled Passwords

The underlying root cause of recycled passwords are organizations that maintain poor password policies. This is also facilitated by the fact that users have to juggle an array of apps in this digital age.

Left to their own devices, users reuse the same password for multiple accounts they have to log into, including corporate ones. This increases the possibility of a data leak that exposes these passwords. Hackers and malicious actors can leverage this to launch credential-stuffing attacks to compromise several corporate accounts.

Misconfiguration and Poor Infrastructure

Misconfigurations are one of the leading causes of data breaches. There are myriad ways misconfigurations can manifest.

These improper configurations include poor settings such as using default factory configurations, shoddy permissions, inappropriate settings, and exposing secrets through a lack of proper authentication around cloud storage devices.

Unpatched Software and Apps

When an organization is negligent in applying security patches and updates to its software in a timely manner, it can create opportunities for data leaks and other types of vulnerabilities.

Unpatched software, for instance, can open the door to a zero-day attack.

Lost and Misplaced Devices

Both company-issued and employee-owned devices can contain an organization’s intellectual property and corporate secrets. The loss of these devices due to theft or carelessness qualifies as data leakage that can easily escalate into a data breach.

How can these types of leakages be prevented?

Fortunately for organizations, several cost-effective and optimal solutions can be used to prevent data leaks.

Conducting Vulnerability Assessments

An organization should embrace a policy of conducting periodic vulnerability audits and threat assessments. These can be in the form of penetration tests in which the organization’s security infrastructure is probed for flaws and weaknesses.

This proactive measure enables an organization to discover and safeguard potential sources of data leaks.

Enhancing Document Security

When data leakage occurs, it is invariably through the contents of documents that weren’t sufficiently protected. Organizations should adopt document security measures to protect their business information and corporate secrets.

Control Access to Data

Rampant and indiscriminate access to data increases the possibility of data leakage. To fix this, organizations should ensure that data access is tightened to only required users and apps.

Organizations can achieve this by implementing robust user and cloud-based access control mechanisms and following the principle of least privilege (PoLP).

Evaluate and Prevent Third-party Risks

An organization might apply the requisite security practices and due diligence but can be exposed to vulnerabilities in its third-party applications.

Organizations should monitor third-party applications, including open source and other supply-chain applications, to prevent becoming compromised.

Implementing Robust Endpoint Security
With the proliferation of remote work, mobile phones, and bring-your-own devices (BYOD) in workplaces, endpoints have become crucial points of data leaks.

As a result, companies should strengthen endpoint security by applying multi-factor authentication and intrusion detection mechanisms.

Implementing Zero-Trust Security

The rise of cloud-based computing, coupled with the explosion of endpoints, including mobile devices, means that for many organizations, perimeter-based security no longer suffices.

As a result, cybersecurity practices can no longer afford to trust users and applications already inside the network. Instead, companies should adopt zero-trust security and its mantra of “never trust, always verify.”

Implementing Data Loss Prevention (DLP) Tools

Data loss prevention is akin to killing two birds with one stone, as it protects and defends against both data leaks and data breaches.

Here are the following ways DLP can help:

  • Providing overarching visibility: DLP can provide the high-level and granular visibility necessary to combat data leakage. Infosec teams and network administrators can effectively monitor the network, especially in large organizations.
  • Data leak prevention: DLP software has built-in anomaly detection mechanisms. Most of these are now boosted by artificial intelligence to detect and flag suspicious transfers and movement of data to stop illegal exfiltration.
  • Securing data at all stages of the data lifecycle: DLP solutions can secure data, whether at rest, in motion, or in use. It achieves this by combining data security policies with encryption mechanisms.
  • Data identification: First, data categorization techniques can help a business determine whether data needs to be protected. Moreover, based on this identification, it assists in prioritizing risk, which guides the level of protection to be applied.
  • Securing endpoints: Endpoint DLP is specifically designed to safeguard and overcome the challenges of protecting corporate endpoints like IoT and mobile devices.

How Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration Can Help You Stop Data Leakage

When paired with DLP, Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration can help tighten up your data protection strategy and protect your data anywhere, wherever it travels. Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration is also highly flexible, allowing you to nimbly apply policies to manage and audit data in real-time.

To learn more about how Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration can secure your data and how Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration works alongside DLP solutions like Fortra’s Digital Guardian, click here.  

Tags:  Secure Collaboration

Chris Brook

Chris Brook

Chris Brook is the editor of Digital Guardian’s Data Insider blog. He is a cybersecurity writer with nearly 15 years of experience reporting and writing about information security, attending infosec conferences like Black Hat and RSA, and interviewing hackers and security researchers. Prior to joining Digital Guardian–acquired by Fortra in 2021–he helped launch Threatpost, an independent news site that was a leading source of information about IT and business security for hundreds of thousands of professionals worldwide.

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