Data Breach

Were You a Victim of a Data Breach?

Data breach is a recurring term in the cybersecurity space. Because for as long as there has been software, there have been vulnerabilities that hackers exploit. These unidentified vulnerabilities are often the reason behind data breaches that make headlines every now and now. 

These data breaches often affect you because some of the target platforms that store and process user data, like a ride-hailing service or digital streaming service. Both of the aforementioned services can have the personal data of millions of users, such as name, address, and credit card number. 

Very bad things can follow if the data is leaked online – which typically is the case. Other cybercriminals can mobilize and use this data for social engineering techniques, like Phishing. If you can recall all the places where you registered your email address, then this blog might surprise you. We’ll show you how to check if you were a victim of a data breach.

How Hackers Target for a Data Breach

Data breach refers to unauthorized access to a system for the purpose of stealing private information. It can be anything from a company’s confidential data or customer data. Whatever the goal of the data breach may be, it can potentially disrupt business operations, causing significant downtime. 

A successful breach involves the hacker(s) getting in and out before the internal security systems detect the intrusion and kick in. The idea is to not get caught. Otherwise, not only will the intrusion be detected, it can trigger a response from the company and result in tighter security in the future. 

One of the alarming aspects of a data breach is that many of them go unnoticed until weeks or months later. In the case of the Colonial Pipeline hack that occurred not long ago, the fuel supplier had to halt operations. Such a move is often part of the protocol for such emergency events, especially considering the possibility that hackers can leave behind malware. Colonial Pipeline was struck by a ransomware attack. The company had to ensure that its systems were not compromised further before confidently resuming operations. 

The case in question leveraged a compromised VPN account of an employee to gain access to Colonial Pipeline’s systems. But while weak and compromised passwords are often the culprit behind a data breach, they are not always. 

What Causes Data Breaches?

  • Weak passwords

A weak password is one of the easiest ways for a hacker to gain access to a system. You would be surprised how many people use “Password123” as the password for their accounts. What’s more alarming is that one password gets reused across multiple accounts. A password that is easy to guess is a huge security risk. 

  • Compromised accounts

Compromised accounts mean those that were affected by a prior data breach, not necessarily on the same platform. But because one password can get used on other accounts, it makes credential stuffing easier for a hacker. 

A hacker can also use malware to steal credentials. 

  • Phishing

Phishing is the act of gaining personal information by tricking the user. It creates a sense of urgency to bypass suspicion. Employees of an organization can be targeted to install malware, which then gives an attacker backdoor to an organization. The attacker can also monitor the employee’s outgoing traffic and local files to steal confidential data. 

  • No 2FA

Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) is a second line of defense that creates another step of verification. It can be a One-Time Passcode (OTP), a login prompt on a registered device, or another password. What it essentially does it prevent unauthorized access even if the account’s credentials were leaked. 

The compromised VPN account in the Colonial Pipeline incident did not have 2FA set up, which allowed hackers to gain access. 

  • Zero-Day Exploits

Zero-day exploits take advantage of vulnerabilities in software or hardware that have not been discovered yet. The term describes the time developers have to address the vulnerability. Such vulnerabilities are particularly dangerous because they can go unnoticed for months. 

While cybersecurity firms are having probing into software to find any proverbial leaks, if a hacker discovers it first, it can take advantage of it before it’s made public. 

How to Identify if You Were a Victim of a Data Breach

A data breach can go unnoticed for months. But, typically, the company will immediately make the attack known to the public and its investors, especially if customer data is compromised. Yahoo’s data breach of 2014 is the biggest data breach in history with over 500 million users affected. The breach was not discovered until two years later in 2016, which goes to prove how a data breach can escape notice.

  • Blog posts

Companies have blogs to communicate with customers and the press. After a data breach, the company will immediately put out a blog post announcing the incident. It is a standard protocol to report such an incident as soon as possible, so a detailed report might not be published until later. However, if customer data was affected, the company will urge its customers to update their login details and use two-factor authentication. 

  • Unknown Logins

Stolen data goes on sale on the Dark Web. Other malicious actors obtain this data for social engineering attacks like Phishing. If the data also contains login information, it will be used to gain unauthorized access to an account. Platforms like Google, Twitter, and Facebook notify the user if a login is made through an unidentified device. 

Always use two-factor authentication to prevent malicious actors from gaining control of your account. 

  • Check on Have I Been Pwned

Have I Been Pwned is a popular website dedicated to cross-checking personal information against known data breaches. Your email or phone number is crosschecked against all known data breaches, and you’ll know if you have been a victim. 

There’s a good chance that something pops up. Email addresses are used to sign-up for forums, social media platforms, and services. Even the platforms that you did not remember could turn up in the results. 

  • Set up Dark Web Monitoring

Dark Web is an anonymous network of websites hidden from the ‘surface web’. It can only be accessed using a special browser called Tor. 

Data stolen from a data breach is sold on the Dark Web. Leading anti-virus and password managers have Dark Web monitoring as part of their features. It notifies if you any of your credentials were leaked online. 

Why You Need to Encrypt Internet Traffic

One of the ways hackers can obtain private information is by sniffing at your internet traffic. Unprotected data streams are susceptible to theft. Encryption protects the data by converting it into an unreadable format while it’s in transit. So, with a VPN, you can safely communicate online while using a public Wi-Fi. 

You must never use unsecure networks to share confidential information – ever. Always look for the HTTPS lock sign in the URL to confirm the presence of end-to-end encryption. And secondly, add VPN’s encryption on top so that no one can see your activities. 


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