Posted on 

May 30, 2022

What is a data breach and how to prevent data breach situations

Rachel Lee
Content writer

Data protection and the act of stopping a data breach should be of the utmost importance to every company of any size. Regardless of whether you are a sole trader or a large conglomerate, you need to ensure that the data you hold on individuals is protected to the highest standard. 

Here, in this article, we look at what exactly a data breach definition is. In doing so, it is possible to understand more fully what a breach of the data protection act can mean in terms of effects and consequences. 

What is a data breach?

A data breach is a situation where sensitive data is revealed - either by a hacker infiltrating an online system or by unwitting disclosure by an individual or company. 

Hackers can attack an individual's home computer or can hack into larger companies’ mainframes. Hackers can use all manner of different tactics to infiltrate a system. From sending people legitimate looking emails loaded with malware and viruses, to attacking out of date software packages that are easy to penetrate. 

The hack itself is not a data breach however. So what is a breach of the data protection act? The act of sensitive data being revealed or exposed is a data breach, which is why it can also be an accidental incident due to inadvertent actions of a person or employee. 

Effects and consequences of data breaches

In many countries, a data breach is a serious occurrence that can have far reaching ramifications in terms of direct or indirect costs. So, more precisely, what is the average cost of a data breach? According to the Ponemon Institute, the average cost to a company when a data breach occurs is $3.86million. However, that is just the final financial figure. If asked, what is the effect of a data breach on brand names or companies, the figure could be much higher. The loss of business that comes from a data breach is a very real threat which is why it is so key for companies to take data protection so seriously. Companies that have been the victim of a successful cyberattack lose the trust of their customers, who go on to seek to do business with another company they believe to be more reputable. 

The legal ramifications are also vast. Companies are legally bound to have a security framework in place to protect against data breaches. With so much more personal data and information held on cloud storage facilities as well as company mainframes, companies are more vulnerable to cyberattack. Before storing personal data electronically therefore, they must be capable of keeping it secure. 

Recent data breach examples and data breach statistics

In 2016, according to Symantec, the most common piece of data that was intentionally or inadvertently revealed was personal data. People’s names, credit card numbers and other unique identifiers were exposed. Personal financial data was also high on the list of data that was stolen or leaked, showing what information is most wanted by hackers and online criminals. 

More specific recent data breach examples include the hacking of the NHS network in the UK - exposing 150,000 patient records in 2018. In 2020, Twitter had to email many of its business clients information that personal data had been compromised. Back in 2017, Equifax had to apologize to customers as it wrongly directed its customers to the wrong website through its own Twitter account. That website was a phishing site that had been set up by a fraudulent user to fool unsuspecting users into parting with their own personal data. 

Encouragingly, according to The Identity Theft Resource Center, the number of data breaches has dropped dramatically in 2020. In fact, it has decreased by around a third with individuals that have been affected dropping by a huge 66%. It is thought that this is due to many companies being on high alert due to the large number of Coronavirus scams. So while fraudsters have not lowered their efforts to infiltrate systems, companies and individual’s extra vigilant ways have helped protect their data. 

How to prevent data breach situations 

So, bearing all this in mind, what can companies and individuals do to stop a data breach ever happening? Understanding a data breach definition is the first step in learning how to prevent a data breach occurring, but there are a number of other steps to undertake to ensure you are as protected as possible. Recent data breach examples and data breach statistics show that it is imperative to never let down your guard. Companies must continually look for ways to improve their online security. Here are a number of ways that individuals and companies as a whole can approach cyber security to ensure they have a robust framework in place to prevent data breaches. 

Use strong passwords

The use of strong passwords is one of the most effective ways that anyone can stop cyberattacks happening through their accounts and user areas. It can be helpful to use a password management system so that you use the strongest of passwords without having to remember them. Weak passwords are easy ways that hackers can take advantage of due to easily guessable words or phrases. Using a strong password with letters, numbers and punctuation make it far less likely to be stolen. 

Monitoring and data breach notifications

Having procedures in place to ensure that data is being protected is key to a robust security framework and obligatory to comply with the GDPR. Additionally, understanding what is a data breach notification and how it should be dealt with is also essential. Educate your employees as to what is the protocol when they have identified a breach or received a data breach notification. 

Learn from past mistakes

While never desired, accidents happen and breaches do occur - even with the best intentions. As a result, it is crucial to learn from the mistakes that the breach has highlighted. Ask yourself where could you or company have done better? What could you have put in place to ensure that that breach did not happen? Have a thorough clean up procedure that works towards making your online security even better. 

Company culture

Perhaps one of the most beneficial approaches to cybersecurity is having a company culture that promotes online resilience. Educate your employees and yourself as to what the ramifications of data breaches are. In doing so, you will empower people with the knowledge needed to motivate them to adhere to your security policies. Additionally, the culture needs to be one that allows people to admit to breaches caused by their own actions as cover ups can make situations far worse.

Use security software

Part of any online security framework should include powerful security software that can help with much of the hard work surrounding cyber security. Make sure you install software that is both highly capable as well as easy to use. If it is not easy to use, people either will not use it or it will not be used correctly. Either way, it will render the software almost useless so ensure that is straightforward and simple to follow. 

A data breach defined - overall takeaways

The sheer magnitude of the costs involved in the average data breach should give any business owner enough reason to implement stringent online security protocols within a company. Without them, the financial and reputational damage inflicted can be huge as well as causing distress to those that had their data stolen or revealed. While it can be time consuming putting a cybersecurity framework in place, the benefits are more than worthwhile. 

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