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What is a Data Breach and How Hackers Manage to Steal Your Personal Information

Data breaches are more common than ever, and with the increasing dependency of modern organizations on the remote or hybrid work mode, it’s a goldmine for hackers. Breaches happen when a company's data gets hacked, or customer data is mishandled or sold to third parties.

what is data breach

The list of victims, which includes both private and government organizations include like Microsoft, LinkedIn, MySpace, JP Morgan Chase, Home Depot, Google, Facebook, Quora, Syniverse, Sacramento Bee, The US Postal Service, The Office of Personnel Management, suggests that hackers can get their hands on data anywhere and anytime.

What is a data breach?

A private information data breach happens when an individual cybercriminal or a group of hackers manages to infiltrate a company’s system and steal sensitive information. This may include information like credit card numbers, names with phone numbers, and other personal or organizational details.

The hackers may gain this access by either exploiting the gaps in a company’s security system or physically accessing the device and accessing confidential information.

How are third-party data breaches different?

A third-party data breach is a private information security breach executed by actors, and the company in question typically relies on it.

All businesses rely on third-party providers of some kind. For instance, for providing server space, payroll software, or other similar software. If a third party gets compromised, your data will likely be exposed to the outside world.

According to a study by the Ponemon Institute, there is a big rise in the number of third-party data breaches every year. 61% of companies in the US reported having experienced a third-party breach at some point in time, up 5% from the previous year. What’s more worrying is that about 22% of surveyed respondents didn’t know what a third-party data breach was.

data privacy and security

What can you do to protect yourself?

The sad news is that there’s almost nothing you can do to mitigate the attack once a breach has happened. Once the breach has been announced, companies typically seal the holes that were exploited. The only thing you can do to avoid further damage is to change passwords, freeze credit cards, and work on fortifying the systems so that the breach does not happen again.

What kind of information can be stolen, and why is it a big deal?

Among tech circles, it’s often said that if a product is free, you are the product. Mostly, companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter that seemingly offer their services for free flourish by mining your data, and you cannot do much about it.

The kind of data that can be exposed depends on the services you use. For instance, if medical test lab data were to be breached, hackers would suddenly have access to your medical records, biometric data, transaction history, etc., which players like private hospitals, insurance brokers and other interested parties can buy and use to their advantage.

If Google were to be breached, the hackers could compromise Maps information and be able to study your movement pattern and possibly predict where you will be at what time. The data is a goldmine for hackers as they can easily sell it to companies that need a database of potential customers to sell their products or services.

How do hackers use your data?

Let’s take the example of some random loan app that you installed but never went ahead and used it. You uploaded credit card information, some references and other basic personal details. You might think that you are safe from scammers, right? But that’s not the case. Once you install an app and grant it full or even partial permissions, it has the ability to access your data even when you are not actively using it. Once the scammers have mined your address, a full list of your friends (assuming they use their real names) and phone number, they put it up for sale on the darknet.

Once sold on the black market, the scope of having such data can be endless. It can range from annoying things like robocalls and junk to more harmful practices like identity theft – opening a bank account using your details and sending the credit to the red.

Can we prevent the data from being collected?

That’s impossible. The rigorous use of smartphones and our overall dependency on them for almost everything in our lives makes it impossible for us not to share our personal information in some or the other way. Education, work, travel, gymming, dining out, choosing a car or a house, chatting with people from our friend list, regular day-to-day shopping – the list can go on and on.

Given the recent privacy law changes in the European Union and stricter regulations in the US, companies are more limited in the scope of data they can collect. However, they still manage workarounds that make you share your data with them in some way or another.

Large companies like Google, Uber, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and almost every other brand you can think of rely on this data to increase their market share and get more advertisers. Their growth relies mainly on this information. For individuals and local businesses, it’s an inescapable trap.

To know how cybersecurity breaches hurt local and small businesses, read the article on how data hacks negatively impact local service providers and businesses and how they can protect their valuable customer information.

How Data Breaches Hurt Local Businesses and Cybersecurity Measures to Protect Customer Information

Local businesses serve a very small customer base in their local area. They usually provide services like plumbing, electrical, packing and moving, digital marketing, tree removal, pest control, restaurants, local small-level ecommerce stores, and so on.

The ways local or small businesses use the internet to run their business are many – chatting with local customers on Facebook, listing their businesses on Google and being reviewed by customers who have availed their services or purchased their products, uploading their customer information online on customer relationship management tools, using some online app for emailing and automated calling, etc.

Any breach on any of the platforms or website hacking means the entire list and information of their customers gets open to everyone. The entire small business could come to a standstill because of that. Cyber security threats for local and small businesses are similar to that of large businesses, so you, as a business owner, cannot take the matter of data breaches lightly. A small or local business cybersecurity policy should be your top priority.

Ways local businesses can protect against the chance of a data breach and secure their customer information

Local businesses cannot do much if the third-party app or tool they use is hacked. There is an action plan that they can implement on their end to maximize security and reduce the chance of a data breach. Here are the best ways small businesses can create effective cybersecurity plans and flourish in the local market.

Always use a trusted platform

To implement the best cybersecurity measures, the first step should be to choose only trusted online platforms for email marketing, CRM, text messaging, etc. Do not purchase subscriptions from an unknown third party that is not highly reviewed or sends you a random email to try their tool. The chance of data hacks on smaller players is much more than larger companies, as smaller ones have low budgets to invest in cybersecurity.

Do not use multiple platforms

The idea here is simple – keeping your online coverage to a minimum will lessen the chances of data loss and ensure a high level of cybersecurity for your local or small business. If you are using a trusted CRM platform for your small business, stick to that and do not plan to use another. More or less, the features are always the same, so it’s more about using the tool you have effectively rather than thinking that multiple tools will make you more successful.

Always keep a backup of your local business data

Breaches in small businesses happen. It’s real. Over-dependence on online tools to store your small business information is not a good idea. You should always use external storage to store your business data. The backups should be done at regular intervals by every local store owner, ecommerce store owner and small business owner. The size of the business does not matter to the hackers. Every data file gets them money and recognition in their groups, so they don’t hesitate breaching or hacking small business websites and their online tools.

Always update your small business system and software

Updating your local business system, and software is important. The companies regularly invest in cyber security measures, and their teams work consistently to identify cybersecurity risks and create patches to overcome any loopholes. This is why, whenever you receive an update notification, you should immediately accept that or install the latest version. On your website, use anti-malware software from a reputed service provider.

Use the latest methods to secure your ecommerce store or business website

Your small business needs to use a captcha before someone can access your website for logging in or scrolling the pages you do not want everyone to access. Install an SSL certificate on your local business website to maximize cybersecurity. Your small business website and server connection should be encrypted (HTTPS and padlock). Back up your website regularly and use strong passwords. You should never accept comments manually, as there are bots that keep sending malicious codes to your website regularly.

Hire trusted people for your local business office

In offline methods to protect your business information and prevent a data breach from happening, you should choose employees for your small business carefully. Check their previous employment record on paper and verify it by calling a couple of ex-employers. Judge their behavior, and assess their IT and cybersecurity knowledge. After hiring, provide them with limited access to business data and online tools for a few months.

After you are confident of them, provide admin roles on websites and never share full information, manage passwords on your own and do not provide full access to the tools and software you use. You are the local business owner, so work with a mindset that you own and run the things, and cybersecurity is your primary responsibility, not someone else’s.

local business expert

Cybersecurity for your local business website – Wix, WordPress, Shopify, Squarespace

To discuss your local business website security and ensure it is fully optimized to meet any cybersecurity threat, get in touch with me. Whether you are old in the business or plan to launch a new website for your new business idea, cybersecurity should be your top priority. I can help you build an excellent, highly secure website that your customers will love and feel safe on. And at the same time, hackers will think twice before trying to get their hands on it.

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