What is a Data Breach? 7 Most Common Causes of Data Breach

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Causes of Data Breach

What is a Data Breach?

Data breach is a cyber security incident that involves obtaining, disclosing or stealing of data without appropriate authority. This gap can be achieved through different ways such as cyberattacks, malware infections, hacking, phishing scams and insider threats. 

It can even be caused by accidental exposition. Regardless of the method, the result is the same: illegal intrusion into data that poses risks of breaching the confidentiality, security, and integrity of individuals or organizations.

Data breaches can represent serious financial losses, product loss reputations, legal responsibilities and fines by regulatory authorities especially when the affected data include personally identifiable information (PII), financial records or intellectual property.

7 Most Common Causes of Data Breach

Below are the 7 Most Common Causes of Data Breach:

Weak and Stolen Credentials


The weak and stolen credentials represent a very high level of the threat for companies as the attackers seize these credentials and use them to access the confidential data and computer systems.

Weak passwords, for instance those that are easily predictable or typical to most people, do not stand a chance against brute-force attacks, whereby automated tools are used to attempt different kinds until the correct password is found.

Furthermore, a common practice of reusing a password from one account to another increases the risk of compromise.  If a particular account is compromised, the hacker can also access the others belonging to that person.


The organizations can vary different preventive measures to fight weak and stolen credential issues. Implementing secure password requirements like complex words, regular change, and prohibiting reusing the same passwords is a great way to add security to user accounts.

Strengthening MFA (multi-factor authentication), which necessitates users to provide multi-token codes for example a password and a one-time code sent to their mobile device for authentication, can prevent unauthorized access.

Also Read: Why Password Salt and Hash Make for Better Security?

Moreover, user account activity should be monitored for suspicious behavior like login attempts from unknown locations or many unsuccessful login attempts by means of which administrators become aware of the security threats that can be thwarted in time.

Backdoor and Application Vulnerabilities


Vulnerabilities at the back door and in an application mostly comes from coding mistakes, weak configuration, and omitted security flaws in software applications. The backdoor, which is inserted with the malicious intent to avoid authentication or to gain unauthorized access by developers or by attackers, acts as a point for attackers to have a hidden entry to get around.

Recommended: Open Redirect Attacks & Vulnerabilities: How To Avoid It

Flaws within applications, for instance, the cases of buffer overflow, injection attacks or insecure file handling, can trace back to the weaknesses in coding practices or insufficient testing in the process of development.

Such vulnerabilities being the entry points for attackers neglect their tasks and get inside the systems to obtain confidential information.


It is necessary to reduce the odds of backdoors and application vulnerabilities by encouraging sound coding execution and implementing a strategy that is proactive in software development and sustenance.

This includes annual code reviews and regular vulnerability assessments to reveal and repair any possible security holes before they can be exploited.

Adopting secure coding principles backed by OWASP or CERT provides developers with tools and techniques that can be used for more robust and secure coding.

Furthermore, employing static code analysis and dynamic code analysis tools automates finding vulnerabilities in advance, and thus, reduces the likelihood of introducing security faults during development.

Ongoing software updates and patch management are key steps to fixing all known vulnerabilities in an application as well as threats that have not been discovered yet.



Malware, as the name suggests, is a generic term for the programs used to perform malicious actions (such as disruption, damage, or obtaining unauthorized access to systems or networks).

The viruses have many ways of getting through the system and they may be either malicious email attachments, infected websites, compromised software, or removable storage devices.

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Relatively frequent forms of malware include viruses, worms, Trojans, ransomware, spyware, and adware.

Once malware has made their way into the system, they can carry out different malicious actions such as stealing confidential information, using various system resources, encrypting files for ransom purposes, and attackers enabling backdoor remote access.


Protection against malware includes a multi-layered cybersecurity strategy with preventive and remediation measures. The organizations should use the robust antimalware and antivirus solution which is able to detect and block known malware in the real-time mode.

Continual operation of software to update and patch existing known vulnerabilities in operating systems, applications, and firmware minimizes the chance of their exploitation by malicious entities.

Employing email security tools such as spam filters, email authentication protocols and user training can serve as the checks and balances that prevent phishing attacks and email based malware.

Network security controls like firewalls, intrusion detection/prevention systems and web filtering are employed to identify and block all malicious network traffic in connection with the spread of malware.

Furthermore, the application of periodic security audits, vulnerability examinations, and incident response drills in organizations can aid in identifying and remedying weaknesses that malware could otherwise exploit.

Social Engineering


Social engineering is a method used by cyber criminals to make people share their secrets, allow access to sensitive systems, or to perform actions that they won’t do without being asked.

Attackers use psychological exploit and trust to mislead users through various means of impersonation, pretexting, phishing, and baiting.

Recommended: Phishing Vs Vishing – The Key Differences Explained

The intruders can take on the guise of real people or authorities through email, phone, or social media to either fool the users to disclose their passwords, account credentials, or other sensitive details.

They can as well fabricate fake websites and profiles to deceive unaware users to download malware or submit personal data.


Putting off the possible social engineering attacks requires having a mix of user education, awareness training, and technical controls.

Technical controls like email filtering, spam detection, and web filtering could be utilized in order to ban malicious content and avoid attackers through phishing websites and malicious domains.

Developing several authentication factors (MFA) and access controls can add an additional layer of protection by approving users to use more than one authentication factor before being allowed to access sensitive systems or data.



One type of malware is ransomware which is a file-encrypting or computer system locking software that is used to make files or computer systems inaccessible until a ransom is paid.

Ransomware usually attacks when users unknowingly use infected files or run the link through phishing emails, malicious websites, or compromised software.

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Upon installation, the ransomware uses the designated computer or network as its victim, encrypting files and rendering them inoperable unless a decryption key is provided, which is commonly the ransom paid to the attacker.

Ransomware is highly contagious and may infect systems at similar businesses or customers.  It can easily exploit weaknesses in old software versions or poor security measures.

Attackers can target any type of organization, irrespective of its size, like companies, healthcare institutions, government agencies, schools or educational institutions, with the intention of gaining financially or disrupting the organization’s business or causing damage to its operations.


Ransomware prevention involves various measures that include proactive actions to evade malware spread, and also techniques to facilitate detection, containment and recovery.

Organizations should consider creating emphasis on security consciousness training for employees in order to teach them the risks of ransomware and how to distinguish between suitable and suspicious emails, attachments and links.

Software patching and updates that perpetually go and fix the existing vulnerabilities are key to decreasing the risk of ransomware and other malware exploitation.

Using strengthened cybersecurity controls, notably those involving endpoint protection, network segmentation, and intrusion detection systems, allows identification and blocking of ransomware attacks before they manage to result in substantial damages.

It is also very important for institutions to ensure that they have a way of keeping updated backups of their critical data and systems which are stored securely and tested at regular intervals for authenticity.

A ransomware attack can be addressed with a holistic incident response plan that has procedures for containment, recovery, and communications, which will let the body recover quickly without necessarily paying the ransom.

Improper Configuration and Exposure via APIs


Poor configurations and exposures via APIs regularly occur as a result of base misconfigurations or vulnerabilities of cloud platforms, web applications, or network infrastructure.

The security settings which are defective and for instance, have weak access controls, unchanged default configurations or permissions misconfigurations can be accidentally used by hackers or unauthorized users to gain access or exposure of sensitive data and/or services.

Also, the APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) used to access the cloud services or web applications can be exposed to attackers, so they may be able to get unauthorized access, manipulate data or execute malicious actions.

Such vulnerabilities can come up due to undetected bugs, lack of input validation, poor authentication protocols, or weak encryption, through which attackers can abuse the flaws present in the API endpoints and end up with leaked or breached confidentiality, integrity, or availability of the data.


For correct setup and exposure via APIs, organizations need to adopt a proactive strategy which guarantees secure cloud services, web apps and APIs in one.

It is necessary to provide for regular security assessment examinations and audits to detect and fix misconfigurations, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses in the cloud environments, applications settings, and API implementations.

Organizations should be guided by the security best practices and standard guidelines of cloud service providers, software vendors, and regulatory bodies in their configuration of services, applications, and APIs.

In this context, it might be necessary to establish strong authentication controls, private access control, encryption of sensitive data during transmission and storage, and security monitoring with database activity logging to check for anomalies or security incidents.

DNS Attacks


Through various methods like DNS spoofing, DNS cache poisoning, DNS amplification attacks and DNS tunneling, DNS (Domain Name System) attacks can cause data breaches leading to confidential data leaks.

DNS spoofing occurs when the DNS resolution process is corrupted and the DNS system is given incorrect or malicious DNS information, which eventually redirects users to malicious websites or servers controlled by malicious agents.

Cache poisoning in DNS exploits the weaknesses in servers and resolver cache of DNS to inject bogus DNS records and the traffic is redirected to these malicious records.

DNS amplification attacks employ the misconfiguration of DNS servers and direct massive DNS traffic to target servers, which results in congestion, causing service disruptions and downtime.

Data encryption happens by placing data within DNS queries or responses creating a tunnel through which cybercriminals can bypass security controls and exfiltrate confidential information remotely.


To combat the risks related to DNS attacks, organizations ought to employ solid DNS security measures with the best practices for the reliable security of the DNS infrastructure and the data that is owned by them.

The implementation of secure DNS servers with integrated protection mechanisms like DNSSEC or (Domain Name System Security Extensions) is one of these steps. 

This cryptographically signs the DNS data to prevent tampering and preserves data integrity. Another aspect that needs proper attention is to construct firewalls, intrusion detection/prevention systems, and DNS filtering solutions that are capable of detecting and blocking malicious DNS traffic including known attack patterns and signatures.

An effective way of preventing DNS attacks is to keep track of DNS traffic and analyze DNS logs for the suspicious activities and if any is found they should be responded to promptly.

With the full implementation of these proactive steps and with alertness regarding DNS attacks, the safekeeping of infrastructure as well as data assets from unscrupulous persons will be achieved.


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Janki Mehta

Janki Mehta

Janki Mehta is a Cyber-Security Enthusiast who constantly updates herself with new advancements in the Web/Cyber Security niche. Along with theoretical knowledge, she also implements her practical expertise in day-to-day tasks and helps others to protect themselves from threats.