4 Leading Causes of a Data Breach

Posted on 8 December 2019

Not a day goes by without news breaking of another data breach; keep your organisation out of the headlines by understanding a bit more about data breaches and their causes.

For many organisations, a data breach is nothing less than a disaster, almost always leading to damaged customer trust and shareholder confidence, as well as serious reputation damage, and losses sometimes reaching the millions – and that’s before potential ICO fines are handed out.

Of course, being able to pinpoint the causes of a data breach is the first step to preventing one – and saving your organisation a lot of hassle – so we’ve mapped out 4 of the most common problems that could lead to a breach:

1. Cyber Attack

The most obvious reason behind a data breach is a cyber attack. Criminals can target organisations in many ways, often looking to access and exploit sensitive information via password hacks or going on the offensive and using malware in a direct attack.

Hackers can use tools that generate millions of popular passwords, trying to crack the code by finding the right credentials that will allow them access in a matter of seconds. This kind of brute-force password hack is the reason why a strong password policy, or a single sign-on method is essential.

Criminals could also use malware that exploits weaknesses in your system while operating undetected in the background, collecting information on the user and performing tasks on the hacker’s behalf. Other direct attacks include adware, ransomware, and several viruses that can delete files and corrupt systems, for this reason, a robust cyber security package is paramount, because sophisticated attacks require a sophisticated defence.

2. Human Error

Unfortunately, the weakest link in your defences is often your employees. Users can unwittingly cause data breaches by committing mistakes that make it easier for hackers to access sensitive information, leaving your organisation one click away from disaster.

Password fatigue is a major threat to your security, as far too many employees rely on weak passwords like “12345,” or “Password” that allow hackers to gain entry without breaking a sweat. Additionally, if employees use the same password for multiple accounts, once a hacker gains access to one system, they gain access to them all.

Another common problem is employees falling victim to social engineering attacks. This is where criminals masquerade as a legitimate source in order to convince a user to hand over sensitive data, download a malicious attachment, or provide access to a restricted system. Otherwise known as phishing scams, these requests can come via email, SMS, or – increasingly – via social media.

Many of these simple errors can be prevented by building up a “human firewall,” i.e. educating staff on the importance or cyber security and training them to adopt basic security measures.

3. Outdated Protection

As technology evolves, new ways to steal sensitive information arise. Keeping your security up to date has never been more important than now in our ever-changing digital landscape.

Businesses are now taking advantage of intelligent and advanced technologies that are able to expertly monitor their systems’ activity, control data access and sharing, and pinpoint high-risk usage to protect against threats.

To prevent a data breach, you’ll need more than just a decent firewall and antivirus software. Advanced cyber security that uses machine learning – essentially making itself smarter and better equipped to detect and defend against threats – as well as taking advantage of identity solutions can help you stay ahead of the game, and one step ahead of hackers.

4. Out of Date Software/Hardware

Cyber criminals are always on the lookout for vulnerabilities in the countless programs and solutions that your organisation currently uses. Thankfully, most of software providers have dedicated teams that comb through their programs for any technical issues that a hacker could exploit, finding and fixing the issue, then sending out a patch for all users to apply.

The downside to this, though, is that once that vulnerability is out in the open, criminals who are now alerted to its existence will by actively looking for organisations who have yet to download the patch and are still open to attack.

Often, a good portion of updates available for software and hardware solutions are likely to be security patches, so the simple solution is to immediately install all updates once prompted, so that known vulnerabilities are immediately addressed.


An increasingly digital world looks a lot like a playground to an experienced hacker, given the limitless opportunities to infiltrate systems and reap financial rewards. Thankfully, by increasing awareness within their organisations and adopting new security solutions, businesses can change the game to their advantage – and keep their names out of the headlines in the process.


To find out more about data breaches, how they can affect your business, and how best to protect against them, please get in touch with our team – they’re always happy to help.

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