Everything you need to know about data breach prevention

Kfir Yeshayahu

April 08, 2024

  • # Fraud Prevention
  • # Identity Protection
  • # Phishing Protection

It’s a nightmare many share: finding out their sensitive information has fallen into the wrong hands or landed on the internet where anyone can steal it. If this scenario keeps you up at night, learning how to identify a data breach and safeguard your digital privacy can help you regain some peace of mind. 

This guide will cover the best practices for data breach protection and the steps you can take to avoid significant fallout should a data leak expose your private information.

What is a data breach?

A data breach is the intentional or accidental exposure of sensitive information to an unauthorized third party. When the breach is unintentional, you can also call it a data leak. Data breaches can be small or large, compromising just one individual’s information or an organization’s entire database. 

Once a data breach happens, criminals can use the leaked information for nefarious acts like stealing identities or money or manipulating people into schemes designed to rob them. 

How do data breaches happen?

Since data breaches can be unintentional, they aren’t always malicious. Some breaches result from human behavior, like accidentally sending an email with sensitive information to the wrong recipient. However, other breaches are often the work of data hackers who engage in criminal activities to make money. Here are a few of the primary ways a data breach might happen: 

  • Human error: If you leave your computer unattended, even for just a minute, the person next to you could take a look at the private information on your screen. On the one hand, that individual could have no malicious intent and bring you or your organization no harm. On the other hand, they could use the information they gather to hack into your private accounts, steal funds, or demand money in exchange for not abusing the data. 

  • Malicious insiders: Sometimes, people within an organization misuse their access to private data. For example, a dishonest employee might distribute customer information to third parties or use that data to commit cyber crimes. 

  • Social engineering: In social engineering schemes like phishing, cyber criminals contact targets with seemingly well-intended requests that are actually harmful. For example, a defrauder might text you pretending to be from your bank and ask you to update your login information before the bank blocks your account. If you take the bait and update those credentials, you’ll fall into their trap, and the criminal will get your data and access to your accounts. 

  • Lost or stolen devices: If someone steals your device or you accidentally misplace it, whoever ends up with it could have ill intent. While most devices have security features (like a password or biometric protection) to prevent unauthorized people from unlocking them, a persistent criminal could find a way to hack in and steal information. 

Data breach vulnerabilities

In malicious data breaches, a hacker must find a vulnerability to pull off their scheme. This could be as simple as waiting to peek at your computer as soon as you step away from it or as complicated as finding a software security issue to leverage. Here are some common data vulnerabilities criminals seek out: 

  • Weak login credentials: Hackers look for weak login credentials, like easy-to-guess passwords or publicly broadcasted network names (also known as SSIDs) to gain authorized access to systems or accounts. They can also perform brute force attacks, using every possible combination of usernames and passwords until they land on the one that works. 

  • System security gaps: If you don’t secure your device or network with a password or other safety features, a cyber criminal could find a way to plant malware on your device. This seedy software can grab your keystrokes, unveiling any passwords or other private information you type out. 

  • Physical vulnerabilities: Hackers can steal physical information, like documents or devices, or use physical devices to grab information. For example, they may use “skimmers,” which are data-grabbing devices that install on payment terminals to copy the payment details of any card swiped at that terminal.  

Data breach consequences

When your data falls into the wrong hands, whether via a data breach or other type of security breach, the fallout can be severe. Here are a few consequences you might face if you’re the victim of a breach: 

  • Financial losses: Individuals and organizations that experience a data breach can experience financial losses if the exposed information helps a criminal access bank accounts, wire funds, or commit other types of financial fraud

  • Reputational damage: A data breach can damage an organization’s reputation. Employees or customers may lose trust in the company and feel betrayed by its inability to protect private information. 

  • Identity theft: A cyber criminal can use your personal information to impersonate you and open a loan in your name or perform other financial transactions. These actions could wreak havoc on your credit score, and you might not be able to recover any stolen funds. 

How to prevent data breaches

While you can’t foresee accidents or stop hackers from trying to commit crimes, you can take steps that make your data difficult to reveal. Here are seven data breach prevention tips to boost your security:

  1. Use safe networks: Never send confidential information over an unsafe network. As a minimum, any network you connect to should have a complex password and the latest encryption capabilities. Most contemporary wireless connections come with WPA2 or WPA3 security protocols, which encrypt data transmissions on the network. Encryption codifies data so only the sender and the intended recipient can view it. This means that even if a malicious actor finds a way to intercept the information, they’ll receive it as jumbled code.  

  2. Mask sensitive information: Avoid giving your real phone number or email address to third parties, even if you trust them. This information can ultimately fall into the wrong hands, making it easier for a criminal to piece together your identity. Get a masked phone number and email address from IronVest, and use them for any online transactions that ask for this information. 

  3. Use two-factor authentication (2FA): Enable 2FA with all your logins. This requires you to enter a code sent solely to you from an app, text message, or email to log into your account. Or, better yet, use biometric authentication from IronVest. This feature requires a face scan each time you log into an account to confirm your identity before granting access. With authentication tools, you can prevent someone who’s gotten hold of your login credentials from accessing these spaces, as they’ll need that additional layer of identification to complete sign-in.  

  4. Educate yourself and your peers: Stay informed about new hacking trends, fraud schemes, and best practices for data safety, and make sure you share this information with your peers or employees. For example, learn how to create strong passwords and teach your colleagues to do the same. 

  5. Keep software and firmware up to date: Keep security software, like antivirus programs, up to date since newer versions contain patches for past vulnerabilities. You also want to run the latest firmware on your physical devices, like your router’s firewall, which monitors and controls your network traffic.

  6. Monitor activity: Routinely check your accounts, networks, and devices for suspicious activity. Unknown charges on your credit card could mean someone is committing financial fraud with your data. You also want to look out for slow processing on your computer, persistent internet pop-ups, and network crashes, as these could be signs of malware running on your device or an in-progress hacking attempt

  7. Keep physical items safe: Take special care to safeguard physical items, such as your personal cell phone or paper files with employee information in a filing cabinet. Lock up documents behind coded or biometrically authenticating keypads if possible, and keep a close eye on your phone and computer whenever you’re in public.    

Keep your data safe from a breach with IronVest 

Device and network vulnerabilities, personal errors, and malicious hacking attempts can easily put your data at risk of a breach. But if that information is tough for criminals to decipher, you can prevent them from abusing your data.

To amplify your security approach, get IronVest and use masked phone numbers, credit cards, and email addresses to conceal your data from third parties. This way, if your contact information falls victim to a breach, your real data won’t be on the line. Plus, you can activate biometric authentication on your accounts so that even a criminal who’s grabbed your username and password in a breach can’t access those spaces.

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