The Silver Lining In Your Cloud TM

Data Breach 101: Top 5 Reasons it Happens

For many businesses, a data breach can be a disaster. The compromising of secure customer information and internal business data such as inventory lists, transaction history, and other privileged information is an event that no business wants to experience.

Beyond the immediate financial impact of fraudulent order placements and bank transfers, the loss of customer faith can cripple a business’ operations.

Knowing what causes a data breach is the first step in preventing one. With this in mind, what are the top reasons why data breaches happen?

Here’s a short list of major causes for data breaches:

Cause #1: Old, Unpatched Security Vulnerabilities

For years, information security specialists have been compiling information on the exploitations that hackers have successfully used on companies in dozens of countries. These exploits are sorted into hundreds of Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) to identify them for future reference.

However, many of these security vulnerabilities go unfixed for long periods of time. For example, according to Verizon’s 2015 Data Breach Investigations Report, “99.9% of the exploited vulnerabilities had been compromised more than a year after the associated CVE was published.”

Leaving these old security vulnerabilities unfixed gives hackers a free pass to your company’s most sensitive information.

Cause #2: Human Error

Unfortunately, one of the biggest sources of a data breach isn’t some unknown or forgotten security bug, it’s human error.

According to statistics from a CompTIA study cited by, “Human error accounts for 52 percent of the root causes of security breaches.” The specific nature of the error may vary, but some scenarios include:

  • The use of weak passwords;
  • Sending sensitive information to the wrong recipients;
  • Sharing password/account information; and
  • Falling for phishing scams.

Many of these human errors can be prevented by making sure employees know their basic data security measures. As stated in the SHRM article, “experts often say more employee training is needed to address the ‘human firewall’ issue.”

Cause #3: Malware

Malware isn’t just a problem for personal computers at the homes of employees, it’s an ever-expanding threat aimed directly at your company’s systems. According to the Verizon DBIR 2015, “5 malware events occur every second.”

While many of these “malware events” are minor in nature, the sheer number of these events can be worrying.

Also, there exists an incredible amount of variation between malware samples.

As pointed out in the Verizon DBIR, “we found that 70 to 90% (depending on the source and organization) of malware samples are unique to a single organization.”

Despite this fact, many malware programs hail from just a few different “families.” According to Verizon, “20 families represented about 70% of all malware activity.”

Why? The main reason is that many hackers make minor modifications to existing malware programs to try and make them unrecognizable to antivirus programs while still producing the intended effect by the hacker.

Cause #4: Insider Misuse

While closely related to human error, this cause of company data is more insidious in nature. Human error implies an innocent accident or mistake. Insider misuse, on the other hand, is the deliberate abuse of your company’s systems by an authorized user, typically for personal gain.

As pointed out in Verizon’s 2015 DBIR, “it’s all about grabbing some easy Benjamins for these mendacious malefactors, with financial gain and convenience being the primary motivators (40% of incidents).”

The issue here is that the malicious actor is someone in whom your organization has placed trust. Worse yet, as pointed out by Verizon’s report, “catching insider abuse is not easy… in many of the incidents we reviewed, the insider abuse was discovered during forensic examination of user devices after individuals left a company.”

While preventing insider abuse is nearly impossible, damage can be limited through compartmentalization of information on your network or cloud. The fewer files and systems a single user can access, the harder it is for them to abuse their access. However, it can also make sharing of necessary data more difficult as well.

Cause #5: Physical Theft of a Data-Carrying Device

Last on this list, but not the least-threatening, is the physical theft of a device that holds your company’s sensitive information. This can include laptops, desktops, smartphones, tablets, hard drives, thumb drives, CDs & DVDs, or even servers.

The severity of a data breach from a stolen device depends largely on the nature of the information stored on the device. More sensitive info generally equals a more severe data breach if the device is stolen without being wiped.

According to the Verizon report, “most of the theft occurred within the victim’s work area (55% of incidents), but employee-owned vehicles (22% of incidents” are also a common location for thefts to occur.”

Most of these thefts are opportunistic in nature, making them difficult to predict. The best solution is often to reduce the opportunities for removing data-storing devices from the work site.

While there are many different data breach threats out there, these are a few of the most common/severe ones.

Need a secure cloud solution for your company’s data? Check out’s secure cloud services.