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The Differences Between Data Loss, Data Leak, and Data Breach

The Differences Between Data Loss, Data Leak, and Data Breach

Our society is increasingly driven by, and reliant on, a constant flow of data to and from countless personal and business entities. This data is constantly being sent, received, stored, retrieved, traded, altered, updated, and deleted, and most people take for granted how dangerous this data can be if it gets into the wrong hands. This data making its way into the wrong hands is why modern IT and cybersecurity teams have their work cut out for them. The threat of data leaks, data breaches, and data loss is ongoing and one of the constant concerns for teams working to secure large networks. We’re going to dive into what data leaks and data breaches are, what data loss means, how they happen, and what can be done to try and prevent them.


What Is The Difference Between A Data Leak & A Data Breach?

In the simplest terms, a data leak is when data of a sensitive nature is unknowingly made available or otherwise exposed. A data breach is the theft of or damage to confidential data during or as a result of a cyberattack. In some cases, the breach can be the direct result of an existing leak, with the attacker using that as the opportunity to gain unauthorized access to more data. 

If confidential data were a freshly-baked pie, a data leak is leaving the pie to cool on an open windowsill, while a data breach is someone opening the window and taking the cooling pie off of the counter. Sometimes, the criminal will use the open window to access and potentially steal everything else in your house.


Dangers Of Data Leaks And Data Breaches

The dangers of data leaks and breaches in any industry simply cannot be overstated. The average employee in the financial services sector has access to approximately 11 million files, and a staggering 23% of all data breaches have a root cause of human error.

Data leaks and data breaches in the financial sector could put countless pieces of personal, confidential, or business financial information out in the open. In the healthcare sector, it could mean sensitive medical information and other confidential data becomes available to hackers and other criminals. Breaches in government systems could end up as threats to national security.


What is Data Loss?

Data loss is the undesired removal or loss of confidential or sensitive data. This can sometimes be due to something as simple as a system error or a failing piece of hardware. However, sometimes the loss of essential data can be from a more malicious source. Data loss generally refers to any data that is encrypted beyond recovery, stolen, or irrevocably deleted.


Common Causes of Data Leaks & Data Breaches

Data leaks and even breaches are much more common than many people know, and they can be caused in countless ways. Sometimes they are brute-forced, while in other cases, the hackers may simply ask the right person for a password or access permission. They can come from unlikely sources, even from within the organization, and in some cases, they can be the result of plain, old-fashioned laziness.


Social Engineering

Social engineering is the tactic of getting sensitive information from a trusted source simply by speaking with them or otherwise interacting with them personally. A common way of getting access to trusted networks is the attacker simply calling an internal support contact and asking for a password reset. Suppose the attacker already has a valid username and the ability to access a login. In that case, they may be able to talk their way into having IT reset the password, simultaneously allowing them access to the system and denying the rightful user the ability to log in.



Phishing is becoming incredibly common with many people moving to remote working frameworks and having workstations set up in their homes. Phishing is an attacker’s attempt to imitate or masquerade as a trusted source, tricking the user into clicking a link that initiates an attack, an exploit, or potentially steals confidential information or credentials. Common phishing attempts resemble an email that resembles an unrequested password reset, tricking the user into clicking a link to “protect their account”.


Denial-Of-Service Attacks

Distributed denial-of-service attacks, or DDoS, are often initiated when an attacker wants to gain access to a website or more extensive system. The attacker will send a constant stream of requests to the server, often from hundreds or even thousands of individual machines, with the objective of crashing the server that the system is hosted on. When the server crashes, it creates additional opportunities for the attackers to infiltrate the system and do whatever they want.



One of the most popular attacks is using some form of malware to infect a user on a trusted system, potentially allowing deeper penetration. Ransomware makes up nearly one-quarter of all malware incidents, and overall, more than 7 out of 10 breaches have financial motivation. Malware is often one of the results of clicking on phishing links and having unknown software deliver a payload to the user’s system.


Network & Firewall Misconfiguration

Another prevalent cause behind data leaks and data breaches, particularly in smaller organizations, is the misconfiguration of essential IT barriers like firewalls. Smaller companies often have challenges securing their networks without hiring expensive IT personnel, leading to the possibility that some aspect of their network security fails or isn’t configured for optimal security. This can allow an attacker to connect to and infiltrate the network involved more easily.



Weak Password Policies

Many organizations do not implement strong password policies, allowing easily-compromised credentials to be created on their networks and opening them up to potential attacks. Strong passwords will not only be of a sufficient length and complexity, using a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols, but they will also not contain any word in the dictionary, nor will they have been used on other systems where passwords have been exposed.


Internal Actors

Sometimes, the network and policies themselves are sufficiently secure, and the problem comes from within. Internal employees that are either forced or convinced to provide access to attackers can devastate collections of confidential data. These can be dedicated employees who are forced or blackmailed by attackers to provide access, while in other cases, they may be current employees that are unhappy and see a chance to lash out. This is also a technique used by those who engage in industrial espionage, who get hired with the express goal of either stealing confidential or proprietary data or allowing access to other unauthorized parties.


Stolen Credentials

Stolen credentials are a very common way that attackers can gain access to sensitive data. Credentials for authorized users on the network can be stolen in other ways, such as through social engineering or phishing attacks, and simply used to access the network by posing as a legitimate user.


How to Prevent Data Leaks & Data Breaches

There are countless ways that data leaks and breaches can happen, and the number of ways to prevent them is equally extensive. While there is no perfect network and data security solution, some best practices can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access. Enacting the processes outlined here can help your organization minimize its risk of leaks, breaches, and ultimate loss.


Intrusion Detection Systems

Having some form of intrusion detection is essential; otherwise, you could have attackers coming and going every second of the day and never know it. The average length of time it takes to identify a breach has occured is 287 days. With sufficient intrusion detection efforts, that time can be significantly reduced, leading to a much quicker completion of the entire data breach cycle.


Create an Incident Response Plan

Once a data breach has been discovered, it takes an average of 80 days to contain it. This means that in most cases, a data breach is active for nearly a year before it can be effectively contained. That is why it is crucial to have a rapid and effective incident response plan, or IRP, that can be implemented immediately after a breach is discovered.


Ensure All Backdoors Are Removed

Backdoors are included in countless software products, and they often allow vendors or support teams to slip past many network security measures so that updates or patches can be pushed. This is also a common way remote access troubleshooting programs work and why they must be used sparingly and closely monitored. Backdoors that are left open or are found by cybercriminals can be used to gain access to secured systems or data.


Have Your Network Tested

Periodic network penetration testing is one of the most effective ways of being proactive in finding vulnerabilities or data leaks in your network. In-house IT teams can do penetration testing or by working with third-party agencies or firms. The goal in either scenario is to find vulnerabilities or security flaws and address them before they are discovered by cybercriminals and exploited.


Vital Aspects of Data Loss Prevention

Creating an effective and multi-faceted data loss prevention strategy can be complex, but being able to secure your organization’s data is worth it. There are estimates that by 2025, the worldwide cost of cybercrime will rise to more than $10 trillion, appreciating at approximately 15% each year. Some of the most essential elements of effective data loss prevention are below.


Data Encryption

Encrypting data is a solid step toward securing your data, even if a breach occurs. Encrypting all data, whether stored or transmitted, will significantly ensure that data is secured. Even if a breach is found, the encrypted data will be useless to those in possession of it.


Detection Of Data Leaks

If your data loss prevention strategy has any shortcomings or holes, a comprehensive data leak detection solution can ensure that the problem does not go unnoticed. If a leak is detected, it could indicate a larger security issue or simply a flaw or gap in an existing data loss prevention initiative. Using a third party to monitor for data leaks can help give an objective assessment of the issue.


Endpoint Security

With the explosion in remote work over the last several years, endpoint security has become a critical consideration. With many workers moving to personal environments to conduct company business, a level of physical security with those located in offices has become challenging to maintain, leaving those agents as potential targets for cyberattacks. Software endpoint agents can help detect and respond to potential threats.



A zero-trust framework is a security scheme that requires all users on a network to be authorized, authenticated, and validated on an ongoing basis. This protocol is used for all users in a zero-trust network regardless of whether they are in physical proximity to the network or located remotely. This is the ideal framework for networks with no conventional networking edge, which are becoming increasingly common with the migration to remote workforces.


Privileged Access Management

Privileged access management, or PAM, is a network security framework that, while not as effective as a zero-trust strategy, is more cost-effective. It can also be implemented more easily on large networks and on a shorter timeline. This framework aims to only share sensitive information with those deemed to have a critical need for it.


Recognize The Differences Between Data Loss, Data Leaks, And Data Breaches

Information technology and data security are constantly evolving, making it an ongoing effort to prevent cybercrime. Data leaks and breaches can lead to more than just data loss; it can result in the complete loss of customer or client confidence, which can cause severe and irreversible damage to the image of your organization. This means it is vital for the health of any business to understand the differences between data leaks and breaches, as well as how to protect against them.

Backup and disaster recovery is just one of the services that is a part of Edge Networks’ Managed IT Services. If you’re interested in learning more, contact us today . We take the time to understand your unique business needs and customize solutions to meet them, and we deliver technologies that boost productivity, performance, and business growth.


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