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Data Breaches: Part 1 – Types

7 mins read

This article introduces data breaches, including the 3 main types of data breaches that can occur.

Data is everywhere. Every time someone clicks, posts, comments, likes, makes a purchase, submits a form or many other online actions are performed, another data point is created. Companies store this data in a database to gain quick access to credentials and other relevant insights. There is a lot of value in data, as well as its connection to other databases. So, what happens when there is a threat of violation towards a database or company’s private information? That’s what we call a data breach.

A data breach is a security incident where there is unauthorized access of confidential information, usually by a cybercriminal. Data breaches are unfortunately a regular occurrence, some impacting larger companies which therefore can affect a large number of people with negative consequences. We will discuss those consequences in Part 2 of this series. Many companies keep track of data breach reports and can be accessed online, and the companies that had the data breach occur are also required to notify all affected individuals of the occurrence. In this article we explain 3 different types of data breaches that can occur.

1. Phishing

Phishing is when emails, text messages, or phone calls are used to gain access to confidential information such as credit card information, passwords or login credentials, a Social Insurance Number (SIN) etc. The communication typically takes the guise of an official and credible entity such as a bank, or a website that is commonly used. The hackers will even create websites that look completely genuine or identical to the real one. For example, they could mirror PayPal then ask you to sign in to reset your password due to a security issue, however instead of simply logging into your real PayPal account, you have just given them your login information.

One of the most popular phishing scams that has been circulating over the last few years in Canada is people posing as an official agent for the Canada Revenue Agency. They usually ask you to confirm confidential personal information and claim that you owe a great deal of money to the government, sometimes even going as far as saying there is a warrant out for your arrest.

2. Malware

Malware encompasses any sort of malicious software. Cybercriminals use malware for various reasons such as tricking people into providing personal data for identity theft, stealing consumer credit card or financial data, assuming control of multiple computers to launch attacks against other networks, or infecting computers with viruses to mine cryptocurrencies.

Here are a few types of malware techniques used to gain access to devices:

      • Viruses – Usually in the form of a file, such as an email attachment, which holds the part of the malware that performs the malicious action. Once the file is opened, the device is infected with the virus.
      • Worms – Exploit a security weakness in a software or operating system and have the ability to copy themselves from device to device. They do not require user interaction to function.
      • Trojans – Trick users into downloading them by disguising themselves as a harmless application. Once they have been opened, they can spy on activities, launch an attack, steal confidential data, or crash a device.
      • Spyware – Program installed on a device, usually without the device user’s knowledge, that allows the spyware user to monitor all forms of communication on the targeted device. Spyware is often used by law enforcement, government agencies, and security information organizations to test and monitor communications in sensitive environments or in investigations. Spyware can also be purchased by consumers to spy on others such as children, spouses, or employees.
      • Scareware – Cybercriminals use these to scare users into purchasing rogue or malicious applications. They typically convince the user that their device has already been infected with a virus by using messages such as “You have a virus!” or “Warning: Your computer is infected!”. The application is unethically advertised as a solution to the virus.

3. Ransomware

Ransomware is when a device or system is compromised by a malicious software that blocks access to systems or data until a ransom is paid. Ransomware is considered a specific type of malware (malicious software). The hacker, also called a hijacker, tends to target access to the information which the company may need to function, and other security issues can arise from the ransomware such as a threat to leak confidential information. Generally, a ransom note will be left by the hacker, whether it be printed out from a printer on location, sent in an email, or appear as a message on a device’s screen. The ransom note tends to demand a certain amount of money be paid with a threat of destroying the data or leaking confidential information to the public.

Accessing Confidential Information

As explained above, there are many ways that cybercriminals and hackers can gain access to confidential information. Malware, ransomware, and phishing are just 3 different unethical methods used to gain access to private information and there are many more tactics used in this digital age we are in. The concerning part remains what these criminals can do with the information once they have it.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, which will explain the possible consequences of data breaches.

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