person getting hacked

Words that are probably only spoken in hushed tones around your office are “data breach.” A data breach can be disastrous for a company. Typically, one results in the theft of either company data, personal information of customers such as credit card numbers, names and email addresses or both. Even a data breach that’s caught quickly can require an expensive cleanup, and one that’s allowed to go on for any reasonable length of time can cost companies millions and ruin their reputation.

To protect yourself from data breaches, it’s important to understand the answers to questions about why, how and how often data breaches occur.

Why Do Breaches Occur?

While data breach statistics for 2019 are still being compiled, we can gather a lot of information to answer the question, “How does a data breach happen?” from Verizon’s 2018 Data Breach Investigations Report.

First, regarding the question of how often data breaches happen, the answer is that you should expect that a data breach can happen at any time. There’s no off season for cyber hackers. Malicious actors, whether they’re paid saboteurs, vengeful ex-employees or simply vandals, are constantly looking for vulnerabilities in every network they can possibly find. You cannot rely on hackers to “not be looking” when you have a vulnerability. They’re always looking, even if it means setting up bots to crawl the internet seeking weaknesses while they’re busy elsewhere.

That said, how do people get into your system? Here are a few possibilities:

  • Criminal hacking: While managers often counsel employees to be more careful with their access, the plurality of data breaches, about half, occur as a result of criminal hacking behavior. This behavior can include computer coding, buying access credentials on the dark web or using a password generator brute force attack.
  • Malware: The second most common cause of a data breach, responsible for a little less than a third of breaches, is malware. Malware is malicious code that hackers will often trick users into introducing into the system. They may send an email with a benign-looking executable file attached or offer a download of a useful program that has malicious code hidden inside. Popular types of malware programs include keyloggers, which capture what keys are struck on a computer and can be used to obtain passwords, RAM scrapers that directly scan memory to deliver information to a hacker and the increasingly popular ransomware, which can lock up your system until you pay to have it unlocked.
  • Human error/social engineering: Criminal hacking measures and malware make up the lion’s share of causes for data breaches, but there are a few other possibilities as well. About a third of data breaches are caused by human error or social engineering. Human error can simply be a matter of accidentally emailing someone sensitive information that they’re not supposed to have access to. It can also be something like leaving a password somewhere public or failing to password protect a database in the first place. Social engineering refers to scams like phishing, where cybercriminals trick users into emailing them data or access codes, for example by claiming to be their bank worried about unauthorized access to your account or the IRS needing to confirm that you don’t owe them a large sum of money.
  • Misuse of privilege: This is a less common type of data breach, but it’s one that happens often enough that you should be aware of it. It can occur when certain users are permitted access to data they should not be allowed access to, or it can happen when users use data they’re allowed access to in an unauthorized way.
  • Physical action: A little more than one out of every 10 data breaches is actually the result of a non-technological error. These errors can be situations as simple as leaving a laptop or phone open or unattended where someone unauthorized can gain access to them.

How to Prevent Data Breaches

Now that you know how data breaches happen, it should be easier to understand the steps you need to take to prevent them. Remember that some of the biggest companies in the world, including Yahoo, eBay, Target and Uber, have been subject to data breaches, costing billions of dollars altogether. No company is immune from a breach attempt, so every company should take precautions.

One of the best ways to prevent a data breach is to have a comprehensive identity and access management system, especially one that utilizes two-factor identification. By requiring anyone who accesses sensitive information to prove their identity in two distinct ways, you’ll make it much harder for a hacker to invade. For example, even if a criminal buys or mines a password successfully, they still won’t be able to get in if they can’t pair that password with something like an access card, push code sent to an approved device or biometric identifier.

Adding traditional cybersecurity measures to good identity access management can create extremely strong protections against breaches. Multiple firewalls and constantly updated antivirus and anti-malware software can help you identify and ward off ransomware, RAM scraper and similar attacks before they get into your system and start doing damage.

Start With Optimal IdM

A great first step can be to protect your system with one or more of Optimal IdM’s identity access management solutions. We have both on-premise and cloud-based enterprise solutions for authentication and authorization to make sure access to your sensitive data is strictly controlled. Products such as Authentication as a Service, The Optimal Cloud™ and our Virtual Identity Server can help make sure that the people who should have access to your company’s data have it when they need it, while those who shouldn’t have it cannot gain access.

To get a sense of how our products work and protect yourself from the catastrophic consequences of data breaches, contact Optimal IdM today to request a free trial of our software.


  • The database in which all of your organization’s sensitive identity data is stored.
  • A digital ledger in which digital transactions are recorded chronologically and publicly.
  • Securely managing customer identity and profile data, and controlling customer access to applications and services.
  • The means of linking a person's electronic identity and attributes, stored across multiple distinct identity management systems.
  • A legal framework that sets guidelines for the collection and processing of personal information of individuals within the EU.
  • The policy-based centralized orchestration of user identity management and access control.
  • An authentication infrastructure that is built, hosted and managed by a third-party service provider.
  • A security system that requires more than one method of authentication from independent categories of credentials to verify the user's identity for a login or other transaction.
  • A global provider of innovative and affordable identity access management solutions. 
  • Managing and auditing account and data access by privileged users.
  • Tools and technologies for controlling user access to critical information within an organization.
  • An authentication process that allows a user to access multiple applications with one set of login credentials.

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