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Different Types of Data Breaches & How To Prevent Them

Posted on Thursday November 3, 2022

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Different types of data breaches will affect what type of protection you implement at your company. Understanding each can help you better prepare for an attack.

What Are The Most Common Types of Data Breaches?

The most common types of data breaches are:

  • Ransomware
  • Phishing
  • Malware
  • Keystroking
  • Human Error
  • Physical Theft
  • Malicious Insiders

What Is a Data Breach?

A data breach is a security incident or cyberattack that results in a security violation. This usually encompasses identity theft, stolen data, unauthorized access or acquisition of data, ransomware, illegal exposure, or disclosure of confidential information. While data breaches are typically instigated with malicious intent, a data breach can also occur due to carelessness,  negligence, or sheer incompetence.

Data breaches are sensitive matters because, in addition to potentially involving espionage and the theft of intellectual property, they put peoples’ personally identifiable information (PII) in jeopardy. Moreover, data breaches exact both a reputational and material impact on the impacted organization.

IBM reports that the already steep cost of a data breach rose from about $4.24 million in 2021 to $4.35 million in 2022, representing a 2.6% increase.

In the past decade, there has been a never-ending epidemic of data breaches. As a result, state legislatures and government agencies have responded with various legal frameworks to check this rampant criminality.

Laws & Regulations Against Data Breaches

According to the National Council of State Legislators, all 50 states in the United States, including its territories and the District of Columbia have enacted security breach notification laws. This compendium of rules applies to both government and the private sector. Other entities that fall under the umbrella of these laws include businesses, especially data or information brokers.

As a result, any enterprise conducting business in the United States must not only familiarize themselves with federal regulations (for example, the Data Breach Notification Act) as they pertain to data breach laws but also understand the patchwork of state legislations, including those relating to industry-specific regulations.

Breaking Down the Different Types of Data Breaches

Data breaches occur due to a variety of reasons or circumstances. Here is a breakdown of the most common methods, means, and vectors through which they typically occur.


Ransomware is one of the most pernicious types of data breaches around. It has become very pervasive very fast, with the US suffering approximately 7 ransomware attacks each hour.

It is a particularly formidable attack because it stems from cryptovirology, which is an extortion-based attack based on combining cryptographic technology with malware. Ransomware encrypts the data of the target organization systems or victim’s computer(s) to block access to it until a ransom is paid for the release of its decryption key.

Hackers normally target crucial files, rendering them unusable so that organizations are placed in a difficult position where paying the ransom is the easiest option to follow. Colonial Pipeline, the largest American oil pipeline system, was forced to pay hackers roughly $5 million to unlock its IT systems in 2021 because a ransomware attack resulted in the shutdown of its critical fuel pipeline.

In addition to encryption, attackers typically use exfiltration tools as a double extortion tactic by threatening to publicly post sensitive, stolen data.

Some of the best defenses against ransomware include:

  • Maintaining proper and up-to-date backups.
  • Staying up-to-date by immediately patching software vulnerabilities.
  • Ensuring devices and applications are equipped with current, cutting-edge security features.
  • Educating people against clicking on unsafe or unfamiliar links.
  • Proactive preparation by having an actionable plan in place in the event of a ransomware attack.


Phishing campaigns usually involve social engineering attacks meant to deceive people into giving up sensitive information like access credentials and credit card details. Phishing attacks typically use emails, purportedly from reputable organizations as a sleight of hand, to send fraudulent messages to unsuspecting targets.

However, the deception can also be executed via phone or SMS. The general strategy is to trick the individual into clicking a malicious link or attachment embedded in the message. To entice people to click, attackers use several strategies like presenting fake invoices and free coupons, bogus mandates to change passwords, and sham requests to confirm personal information.

In addition to email phishing, other types of phishing include spear, whaling, smishing, and vishing; they’re all designed to trick people into revealing personal information that can be used for fraudulent data purposes.

Spear phishing is a highly targeted attack crafted for an individual or group of people in an organization. Because they are very tailored to the personal details of the victim or group, they appear legitimate, something which can make them successful.

Whaling is a spear phishing attack that targets a large group of high-profile targets, such as the executives in the c-suite of an organization(s).

To prevent phishing, do the following:

  • Install anti-malware software
  • Educate staff on recognizing fake requests and dubious links
  • Apply free anti-phishing add-ons
  • Protect corporate accounts by using multi-factor authentication


Malware, short for malicious software, is a general term to describe intrusive programs created with ill intent. Malware can cause harm in a variety of ways, but it mainly starts by first infecting a computer, network, or server. Depending on their signature and payload, they seek to propagate themselves throughout system infrastructure and devices.

There are a variety of symptoms that can indicate that a computer has been infected with malware. For example, the system starts slowing down and experiences frequent crashes and/or an unexplained spike in internet traffic. Some users might encounter abrupt browser setting changes, loss of access to files, and antivirus products suddenly stopping.

Malware comes in different forms, such as the following:

  • Viruses
  • Worms
  • Trojan virus
  • Spyware
  • Ransomware
  • Adware
  • Fileless malware

Emerging strains of malware have become more sophisticated. To evade detection, some advanced persistent threat (APT) actors employ obfuscation techniques, like using web proxies to hide their IP address, including the capacity to deceive signature-based detection tools. They typically use command and control techniques to coordinate attacks.

In addition to installing anti-virus and vulnerability scanning to detect anomalous network behavior, organizations should adopt zero-trust security instead of the ineffective traditional IT architecture with their “castle-and-moat” approach.

Keystroke Logging

Keystroke logging is a cyber attack that uses a tool or malware called a keylogger to capture and record user activities; for instance, the keystrokes entered to log in or gain access to a system.

Its name derives from the fact that the key presses or strokes are logged into a file. Alternatively, an attacker can use a command and control infrastructure that enables the attacker to see the keystrokes entered in real-time.

This is a simple yet potent cyberattack for the straightforward reason that most computer interaction is mediated through the keyboard. As a result, keystroking can yield a treasure trove of information like username/password credentials, including credit card and banking information.

Some keyloggers have legitimate purposes, like capturing user activity for training purposes. But most often than not, they are used to snoop for illicit ends. In addition to tracking activity like documents, folders and files accessed, this type of malware can also capture the user’s screenshots.

There are various types of keyloggers with differing levels of sophistication and harmfulness. The most common type is the user mode or API-level keylogger. While this category of keyloggers is a threat because they can transmit the information captured through API interfaces, they lack administrative privileges.

Kernel-level keyloggers are challenging to remove once installed because they hook themselves into the operating system. Others include screen scrapers and browser-level keyloggers, which capture information entered into forms on web pages.

To prevent keyloggers from infiltrating your system, ensure your system has the most updated antivirus software. Also, make sure you don’t download any files from untrusted sources.

Human Error

As everyone knows, to err is human. Human error that results in a cybersecurity incident manifests itself in several ways. Even mistakes made without malicious intent can be categorized as an insider threat. Data breaches that stem from human error can occur due to negligence, incompetence, or the mere capacity for humans to make mistakes.

Some cyberattacks exploit human errors instead of coding flaws like SQL injection and cross-site scripting attacks. Human error cyber incidents don’t always derive from technical mistakes. They can be something as seemingly benign as CCing the wrong people in an email chain who shouldn’t be privy to the disseminated information.

Devices like laptops containing sensitive or proprietary company data can be lost or stolen due to employee carelessness, jeopardizing the information stored on them.

Even Apple fell prey to the high cost of human error when in 2011, an employee carelessly lost a laptop containing an iPhone prototype in a Bay Area bar. Gizmodo managed to get its hands on the secret design prototypes of the next-gen iPhone and posted videos and photos of the new handset.

While human error cannot be entirely eliminated, it can be minimized through training and education on the consequences of data breaches and the importance of following security best practices like reporting suspicious emails, links, or attachments sent to corporate accounts.

Also, mandating employees and stakeholders to follow cybersecurity policies and procedures to keep data secure.

Malicious Insiders

As the name suggests, malicious insiders commit data breaches with malice. The objective of the criminal intent could be to profit from the stolen data or for espionage purposes.

Malicious insiders are typically employees, vendors, or contractors who knowingly and internationally steal data using the legitimate access they have to an organization’s internal network.

Since organizations need to empower employees and vendors with some level of access to their computer systems in order to conduct business, risk management processes need to be implemented to prevent abuse.

These include providing robust user access control systems and implementing the principle of least privilege in their applications systems. These measures ensure that users only have access to the requisite data and level of permissions required to execute their respective tasks.

Strict controls on sensitive documents can be maintained by applying secure collaboration tools. Organizations should also have a policy to immediately remove access to corporate resources for any employee or contractor who has been fired or furloughed.

Physical Theft

When it comes to data breaches, most of the focus is placed on digital-based assets. This is understandable since most data theft predominantly occurs through hacking online infrastructure. However, organizations should also be concerned with safeguarding their physical records.

This extends to computers and laptops, especially in this age of remote and hybrid work. As we noted, data breaches also occur through lost or stolen removable company devices. Staff should be reminded to keep the sensitive information they carry with them outside office premises as safely and securely as possible.

Notable Mentions

What we’ve presented so far isn’t an exhaustive list of data breach types. There are numerous attack vectors and methods that hackers use to compromise systems and exfiltrate data, including:

  • Unpatched security vulnerabilities
  • Weak and stolen credentials
  • Password attacks
  • Compromised assets
  • Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS)
  • Accidental data leak exposure

How Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration Can Help You Prevent Data Breaches

Digital Guardian Secure Collaboration has the tools, solutions, and know-how to help your organization prepare for and prevent a data breach. In addition to data loss prevention measures, the product bolsters your data security with information rights management (IRM) and digital rights management solutions (DRM).

To learn more about data security, read our Definitive Guide to Data Security.

Tags:  Compliance Secure Collaboration

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