Are You the Victim of a Data Breach? The most common ways data breaches occur

words Alexa Wang

A data breach is an incident that exposes your protected and confidential data. It can involve the theft or loss of your email, passwords, personal health information, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, or social security number. Data breaches can be accidental or intentional.

Often cybercriminals hack organisations’ databases to get a hold of their clients or employees’ personal information. However, sometimes an employee at the organisation may accidentally expose the details on the internet. In both instances, hackers can get your key personal information and profit from them at your expense. 

Government institutions, corporations, hospitals, and retailers, have all been the victims of hackers. How do data breaches happen?

It looks like cybercriminals develop new strategies to steal data daily. But, do they really do it? Research shows that criminals use six methods and are quite consistent in their techniques. Let’s look at each of them and see how they function

Data Breach

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Criminal hacking

Research reports that criminal hacking is the primary cause of data breaches. Hackers often conduct specific attacks because their purpose is to harm a particular organisation. They can use SQL injection or malware tools only if someone hacks into the organisation’s system previously. For someone who doesn’t have digital security knowledge, it may be surprising to find out that several activities encompass criminal hacking. The method is often associated with computer coding, but research shows that hackers often use a technique involving stolen credentials. 

Cybercriminals don’t need specific technical knowledge because they can purchase the credentials on the dark web or guess them with the help of a password-generating system. After they get the login credentials, they can perform whatever nefarious activity they have in mind. Most times, they use them to extract information to sell on the dark web, launch another cyberattack or commit fraud. 

Human error

A data breach doesn’t have to be caused by someone who has malicious intentions. Studies show that one in five incidents is the result of an employee mistake. Most often, employees send sensitive information to the wrong receiver, hand a physical file, or attach the wrong document to someone who shouldn’t have access to the data. In the same category with human error lies misconfiguration, which usually implies leaving a database that contains personal information online without safeguarding it with password restrictions. 

Social engineering

Research also shows that some data breaches result from fraudsters acting as they belong to an organisation. Everyone has heard about phishing, a cybercrime that implies a hacker sending malicious emails that look legitimate to internet users. The threat of financial pretexting is also popular with social engineering methods. 

Pretexting is a form of phishing because cybercriminals contact the targets under false pretence to obtain their personal information (financial information in most cases). Pretexters contact their targets by email or phone or duplicate a legitimate website and request people to send them their financial data. 

Once they get the personal details, they use them to commit fraud, request information about accounts history, or sell the data to third parties. 


Cybercriminals use malware for various reasons, but research shows that they often use it to collect sensitive data. A prevalent malware is RAM scraping because it’s effective in stealing information for POS systems. 

Research also points to the prevalence of keyloggers that capture the keys an internet user struck on their keyboard when they log into their accounts. Keyloggers are used to steal passwords and similar sensitive data.

 If you think you’ve been the victim of a data breach or an organisation with your sensitive information informed you that their databases have been breached, you can claim data breach compensation. How can you do it? Data Breach Law recommends working with a legal adviser who has experience handling similar cases to guide your steps. The harm of malware triggered data breaches can be significant and leave you dealing with financial losses. Working with an expert is the best way to get compensation for your distress.   

Unauthorised use 

Companies sometimes overlook the threat their workers pose, but research shows that one in twelve data breaches results from an employee misusing sensitive data. There are two ways these scenarios happen; the employee makes a privilege abuse and misuses data the company trusts them with or ignores the access policies. In the first situation, they don’t misuse the personal information for malicious purposes, but they come across it accidentally because the organisation didn’t set the correct control. In the second case, the employees are aware they don’t respect the regulations but don’t fully understand their actions. 

Another type of unauthorised use of data is information mishandling. This happens when personal details are copied, accessed, shared, or stolen by staff who aren’t authorised to do it. 

Physical actions

Usually, people think of data breaches as the result of a digital crime, but research shows that sometimes these incidents don’t involve the use of technology. In some instances, these incidents involve the theft of devices, paperwork, or other storage tools. Nowadays, organisations are encouraged to promote remote work, and therefore their employees use their personal devices to complete their tasks. In this context, it’s more challenging to keep an eye on storage tools and devices, and an opportunist can easily take hold of them. 

Another physical activity that leads to data breaches is card skimming. The criminal inserts a device into a card reader to gather payment card details. 

Besides the data breach methods mentioned above, we should also list denial of service, web application attacks, and miscellaneous intrusions. Cybercriminals don’t limit themselves to a strategy to steal sensitive information. They often use several tools to achieve their purpose. Security accidents can compromise data and trigger the loss of documents that contain sensitive information. It’s wise to use multiple layers of protection to safeguard personal details and take action immediately after discovering that you’ve been the victim of a data breach. 


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