The Key Causes of Data Breaches

What is a Data Breach

A data breach occurs when a hacker or cyber-criminal gets access to a computer system and obtains some of its protected and sensitive data. In many cases, the information includes things such as individual’s names and addresses, social security numbers, bank account information, and credit card information.  It can also include such things as health and medical records, business transactions, and other types of personal, identifying, or business-related information.

How do Data Breaches Happen

Data Breaches generally occur when a “hacker” bypasses a computer system’s security and accesses the data. Data breaches occur either through physical access to a computer system or network and copying the information onto some sort of portable memory device (which are less common), or as a result of bypassing the system’s network security and remotely accessing the information (which is by far the most common way a data breach occurs).

What are the Causes of Data Breaches?

There are many causes for data breaches, but the main ones:

Weak Passwords:

Easily guessed passwords often the cause of a data breach, as it can be easy to decode an easily guessed password. Passwords such as “password”, “123456”, “qwerty”, “guest”, and “welcome” and “111111”, a well as simple variations of your name or use of your birthday are easily guessed by hackers.

Network and Software Breaches:

Networks and software security applications can be poorly coded or have inherent weaknesses that can lead to a data breach.  Hackers are able to exploit these programs weaknesses and gain access to the “back-end” systems and the linked databases, which are the actual “containers” of all the personal data.


Malware, similar to computer viruses, can be unknowingly downloaded and placed onto a system.  This generally occurs when someone “clicks on a link” or “downloads a file” that triggers or downloads a malware program.  Once downloaded, this program is then able to remotely access and transmit sensitive information from the system back to the hacker, and often can continue to run for long periods of time without the user’s knowledge. Whereas a computer virus is generally focused on causing damage to a system by corrupting or deleting data, malware is instead focused on copying system information including account information, passwords, and back-end system data.


Phishing attacks also may lead to data breaches.  Phishing occurs when someone is “fooled” to provide their personal information or network passwords to a hacker.  This often occurs by the user receiving an Email or visiting a website that “looks legitimate”, but is actually a phony Email or a “fake site” created by the hacker to collect such information.  The user may be asked to provide their login information or other sensitive information such as their social security to the hacker. Once the hacker has this information, they are able to get access to the user’s back-end systems and associated personal data.

Insider Information:

In some cases, a disloyal or disgruntled former employee may decide to steal company information.  This can be done out of anger or spite, as well as for personal gain or for sale to hacker sites or even competitor companies..


The theft or loss of a corporate asset (such as employee laptop or USB drive) may also lead to a data breach. A laptop may be lost and the password written on a post-it note attached to the password may contain sensitive information.  USB and thumb-drives are also routinely lost, many of which are not password protected or the contents encrypted.


The above post is an excerpt from a larger post on Data Breaches and how to Prevent them.

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