Top 5 Causes of Data Breaches: Protect Your Organization

A hacker typing on a laptop. Businesses need to know the causes of data breaches to prevent them.

Written by: Jay H.

You may think your small business is an unlikely target for cybercriminals. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Approximately 43 percent of cybersecurity breaches target small and medium businesses, meaning your organization is in direct sight of attackers. Luckily, you can fight back against hackers and take steps to protect yourself and your organization. Let’s go over the top five causes of data breaches and the actions you need to take to protect your business.

Causes of Data Breaches

1. Compromised Credentials

Stolen credentials account for an astonishing 81 percent of data breaches.

Despite this, poor password practices are widespread.

At least 52 percent of people reuse their passwords across multiple sites, and 13 percent use the same password for all accounts.

Even more alarming, 48 percent of employees use the same passwords for both their personal and work accounts.

Businesses need to do more to combat poor password practices. There are several steps companies can take, including:

2. Malware

Computer malware on computer.

Malware, short for malicious software, describes software designed to cause harm to computers, data, networks, or systems.

Three common types of malware include:

  1. Ransomware: Ransomware is malware that encrypts the victim’s data. Then, the perpetrators demand a ransom from the victim or threaten to delete the data forever or publically publish it.
  2. Computer virus: A virus gets onto your computer by downloading a malicious attachment, file, or program. Then, it spreads across a network, infecting other systems it finds.
  3. Adware or spyware: Adware or spyware is software that tracks your online activity, including location data, browsing history, passwords, credit card numbers, or other private information. Then, bad actors sell this information to third parties.

Malware can devastate your organization. Proactive approaches businesses need to take to combat malware include:

  • Installing antivirus software.
  • Patching software with new updates as soon as they are released.
  • Ignoring unsolicited emails from suspicious or unrecognized senders.
  • Not opening suspicious links or files.
  • Downloading reputable software directly from the vendor’s website.
  • Backing up all data regularly.

3. Social Engineering

Social engineering is the art of manipulating victims into making handing over sensitive information or making security mistakes. Unfortunately, many users fall victim to social engineering scams. In fact, human error accounts for 95 percent of cybersecurity breaches.

Phishing attacks are when scammers masquerading as trustworthy entities try to obtain sensitive information from victims. These types of attacks are prevalent and sophisticated. In 2019, 88 percent of organizations globally experienced spear-phishing attempts.

Organizations can prevent most social engineering attacks through education. That’s why employers should teach several tactics to stay cyber smart, including:

4. Insider Threats

Unfortunately, bad external actors aren’t the only threat to your organization. Employees, ex-employees, contractors, vendors, or other trusted third parties with access to your network can accidentally or intentionally harm your business.

Insider threats impact over 34 percent of organizations around the world yearly, so businesses must address these threats. Since the threat originates from inside the organization, prevention and detection can be difficult. To defend against insider threats, organizations should implement the following guidelines:

  • Using the principle of least privilege to assign users the least privileges necessary for their job functions.
  • Implementing the zero-trust security model to verify everything inside and outside the network.
  • Changing credentials regularly and when employees leave the company.
  • Removing unused accounts.
  • Monitoring network activity.
  • Requiring multi-factor authentication.

5. Security Vulnerabilities

Software update progress bar.

Missing operation system patches and application patches are a significant source of data breaches, accounting for nearly 60 percent of attacks. Many people neglect to apply software updates as they are released, which puts them at significant risk. Attackers can exploit security vulnerabilities in unpatched software to install malware and wreak havoc.

Unfortunately, organizations face hurdles in mitigating security vulnerabilities. Patching is expensive for organizations that cannot afford downtime and disruption. Also, patching systems belonging to remote workers is even more difficult.

To better manage security vulnerabilities, organizations should use the following tips:

  • Prioritize significant vulnerabilities.
  • Test patches before they are applied to all systems.
  • Work alongside a reputable managed services provider to provide network security services.

Defend Against Data Breaches

Now that you know the most common causes of data breaches, you need to take action. However, many SMBs do not have the resources to manage their cybersecurity effectively. That’s why partnering with a managed IT services provider like Design2Web IT is one of the best decisions an organization can make to protect itself. If you would like to learn more about how we can defend your organization, contact us today.

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