Data breaches have been in the news a LOT lately. Most of the reports cover what occurred. Few explain how they happened.

The how is actually far more important than the what. Why?

Because while it’s important to understand what kind of collateral damage took place because of a hack, it’s even more critical to know how it happened. It’s the only way people and organizations can take steps to prevent them from occurring again.

Here are some of the top reasons hacks happen along with advice from our experts on how you can prevent them.

1. Employee mistakes.

Most hacks can be tracked back to errors made by employees. They’re often the weakest link when it comes to defending an organization’s systems, networks and technology.

Most incidents are caused by workers who forget to follow procedures — or aren’t aware of the procedures that should be followed. A simple example is when someone sends a bulk email, and the recipients are listed in the cc rather than the bcc field. While this may not seem like a big issue, the affiliation between an email address and an organization could reveal sensitive personal information, such as a possible mental health issue if the email comes from a psychiatric practice.

Another example is an employee who uses a weak password that makes it easy for hackers to access systems so they can cripple them or steal confidential information. It can cost a lot to recover from this kind of hack. Many businesses never regain the trust of their customers after their data is stolen.

The best way to prevent employees from making mistakes is by educating everyone on your team on how to access your networks and use systems and software properly. Make sure your education program is ongoing. It’s the only way to ensure everyone stays current on the latest cyber protection tactics and that they don’t forget what they’ve already learned.

2. Brute force.

This might seem like an odd term to associate with a cyber crime, but brute force password hacks are a “thing” and you need to know about them. You’re probably not aware of it, but there are hackers regularly visiting your login pages, using a tool that is able to generate countless passwords (think millions plus in minutes), trying to find the correct credentials to break in.

Unless the account holder has set up a strong password, the tool will allow thieves to break into their account in minutes or even seconds. It may seem inefficient to break into accounts one at a time, but hacking the right one at the ideal moment could reap significant benefits for cyber criminals. The best way to prevent this is to require customers to use strong passwords to access their accounts.

3. Social engineering.

Cyber criminals present themselves as legitimate people or organizations in social engineering attacks, even though they’re not. For example, they may claim to be part of a government organization or well-known company.

Their goal is to trick people into:

  • Sharing sensitive information with them.
  • Downloading an attachment or clicking on a link that could release malicious software.
  • Giving them access to a virtual or actual space that’s restricted for security reasons.

The most common type of social engineering attack happens through phishing. This involves hackers sending emails from seemingly legit organizations that contain urgent requests to take action. This has become a common type of attack during the pandemic. The emails contain information related to it and come from sources that look like government agencies or healthcare organizations.

Some of the emails contain links that direct users to login to a facsimile of a legitimate site, enabling the crooks to capture the individual’s username and password. Others contain malicious attachments that infect the recipient’s computer with malware. Even though most phishing attacks happen through email, they can also be launched through social media posts and text messages.

The best way to avoid social engineering hacks is to train employees to be skeptical about any communications they receive. If they have doubts or questions, they shouldn’t act on the requests in them until they check with an expert to find out whether it’s the right thing to do.

4. Ransomware.

By far, ransomware is one of the fastest-growing cyber threats to businesses, both big and small.

It’s a type of malware that takes over computers, systems and networks and holds them hostage until businesses pay ransom to have them released.

The reason the threat of ransomware is so extreme is because almost every organization is vulnerable to it. The malware that launches ransom attacks is typically hidden in email attachments. The emails often sneak past security mechanisms without raising red flags.

Train employees to look out for suspicious emails. Also, make sure you regularly back up your data. If your systems are infected by ransomware, you can wipe them clean and restore them with the backed up data. This will help you avoid ever having to pay ransom to use your own equipment, software and systems.

5. Bad actors.

Most people trust their coworkers. It’s human nature to want to bond with others. Solid workplace relationships are good for personal well being and organizational productivity. However, unfiltered trust could bring down your operation.

Employees have been known to steal money, items, secrets and other things from the companies they work for. In the same way, bad actors have hacked systems to take cash, private data and company secrets or to bring down an operation. Whether because of greed or having an ax to grind, malicious people, whether working in-house or through trusted vendors, have caused serious harm to organizations.

A proven way to prevent this is by limiting access to only the networks, systems and software people absolutely need to get their work done. This will help limit the damage they could do if they want to cause harm. Also, constantly monitor your network looking for signs of unusual activity. It could point toward an internal hack in the making. Also, encourage people to report any unusual coworker behavior. It’s not tattling on them. It’s protecting their livelihoods and the security of the organization they work for.

6. Physical theft.

Not all data breaches are the result of criminals using online methods to break into computer networks. Some happen because of actual physical theft. This includes stealing paper records that contain login information and smartphones, tablets and laptops that make it very easy for thieves to access business systems.

In addition to practicing sound cyber practices, workers must be careful in the real world. People should never write down user names and passwords or leave them in places where they could be found. They should also keep all devices in their possession or securely locked away. A smartphone or laptop left out in the open on a car seat or at a coffee shop is an invitation for thieves to take it. Not only will they get the device, they’ll get access to any networks or systems associated with it.

Educate the people on your team on how to protect their devices. Also, inform them about who they should contact if one is stolen. It’s important that people act fast after a theft so the device can be deactivated before crooks can hack into it.

Got questions about protecting your networks, systems and software from getting hacked? The experts at GeeksHD are always available to answer them and get you the help you need to protect them.