What is Data Leakage?
by Sasmito Adibowo
The benefits of using cloud environments to store and access data over the Internet has been highly beneficial for many businesses. Cloud environments help both start-ups and enterprises scale up conveniently. However, as with other major advancements, the convenience of sharing and storing data over the Internet exposes businesses to several data security threats. This blog post addresses one such threat, namely data leakage.
Here’s what this post will help you understand:
- What data leakage is
- Common causes of data leakage
- How to prevent data leakage
- How data leakage affects organizations at different hierarchical levels
What Is Data Leakage?
Briefly, data leakage is the act of leaking confidential information from within an organization to the outside world. Such incidents occur mostly over the Internet on cloud platforms.
It often happens when an employee working in an organization unintentionally or intentionally releases sensitive data about the company to the outside. This can occur through an email transfer, sharing documents via the cloud, and so on.
The employee does not necessarily have to leak the information. He or she may simply create a window of opportunity (if the employee has malicious intentions) to grant access to an external, unauthorized party.
The key point here is that data leakage occurs from the inside-out, i.e., it is initiated from within the organization and sent to the outside world and/or to unauthorised internal users and vendors..
Data leakage is a serious security threat that can jeopardize the reputation and efficacy of an organization. It can be especially damaging if the organization stores highly confidential customer data such as credit or debit card details. Furthermore, data leaks can have varying impacts, depending on the size and type of the organization.
Common Causes of Data Leakage
Data leakage is associated with an employee of the organization. While there isn’t much that an organization can do to stop employees with malicious intent, there are certain measures that can prevent data leakage.
Data leaks are facilitated by following:
Mistakes by IT staff
More often than not, the IT staff updates the organization’s software arrangement and reconfigures the setup. At times, the staff incorrectly configures the system, leaving loopholes and potential network gaps. These loopholes become easy gateways for data leakage.
Granting unnecessary access credentials
Organizations sometimes lose track of the access credentials it provides to employees. And sometimes employees at the higher-level grant access to private documents and files to other members of the team for work-related tasks. When this happens, sensitive data floats through multiple levels of the organization. This makes it much easier for an employee with malicious intent to threaten data security.
Not using multi-factor-authentication protocols
By following simple data security policies, an organization can prevent catastrophic data leakage. For instance, using two-factor or multi-factor authentication when logging on to applications on cloud platforms can create an additional layer of protection. Such policies can protect against malicious employees who try to access the drive or email accounts of the organization in order to leak confidential data.
How to Prevent Data Leakage
You can prevent data leakage before it occurs by making smart decisions about the way the data flows through your organization.
Categorize your data
Data leakage, data breaches, cyberattacks, and so on usually target sensitive and confidential information. If sensitive data is distributed across different regions in the internal network, you cannot effectively track and manage it. For this reason, understanding data, categorizing confidential data and placing it under restricted access can easily reduce opportunities for data loss.
Prevent end-point data leaks
Monitoring the flow of data from an organization through emails, documents, and USB devices is crucial in identifying data leaks at their source points. Companies must have data security protocols in place that monitor the outflow of data.
Avoid weak passwords
Since the threat is within the organization, the simplest way to prevent it is by making sure that each employee uses a strong password for their login credentials. Furthermore, a two-step verification process can also secure organizational data.
Perform regular audits
Performing regular audits can help an organization reflect upon changes that have occurred within the organization. Through audits, companies can monitor and track who has access to different applications and customer data. Audit logs can help identify when (and by whom) an unauthorized access attempt has taken place. This can help you identify malicious employees who intend to compromise the organization’s integrity.
How Data Leakage Affects Organizations at Different Hierarchical Levels
Data leakage at the upper levels of the hierarchy are especially detrimental. Most tech giants in the present era are highly data-driven. For instance, companies such as Amazon store highly specific and confidential data about their customers. This information can include sensitive data such as credit or debit card details, personal identification numbers, housing addresses, and so on.
If data leakage at such a company occurs, millions of people across the globe could be affected. Furthermore, the business will likely be dragged into court.
However, big tech giants usually have frameworks in place to detect any form of data leakage to the external environment. They invest millions of dollars in cybersecurity and have rigorous data security protocols. They respond quickly when they need to.
Start-ups are usually much easier to target. A common misconception among growing enterprises and start-ups is that data security is only a problem for the big tech companies. One of the reasons this is common belief is because cyberattacks against a tech giant create scandalous news headlines.
The truth is that start-ups must be as worried as even the largest enterprises. They must level up their data security standards and train their IT staff to perform regular audits.
While data leakage can result in huge losses, an organization can implement rigid data security policies to quickly identify the potential sources and prevent data leaks. Enhancing data security measures by using encryption techniques can add an additional data protection layer.
Furthermore, integrating simple policies such as restricting access to sensitive data files and implementing multi-factor authentication protocols can prevent malicious attacks.
With that being said, data leakage can occur when an employee releases information accidentally. Unfortunately, in such cases there isn’t much an organization can do to prevent it. However, educating your employees by conducting seminars can help spread awareness about data security threats.
Irrespective of whether your organization is a budding start-up or an experienced enterprise, it is necessary to create a secure culture where employees actively participate in cybersecurity discussions.
Learn More or Share Ideas
If you’d like to learn more about securing data & reducing risk, or perhaps just share your own ideas, then feel free to contact the enov8 team. Enov8 has some great data DevOps & DevSec tools that can help you on your journey.
Sasmito Adibowo. Sasmito is an idea-person with the ability to execute—from patents, to prototypes, to production. He’s been doing a dual-track career since he published his first app in middle school.
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