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Data is valuable, and hackers go to extreme lengths to acquire sensitive information. Cybercriminals treat data as currency, selling it to the highest bidder due to its exploitable and manipulatable nature. Crucial data falling into the wrong hands can lead to severe repercussions, potentially damaging an organization’s reputation and its customers’ lives.

Over 4 billion records have been stolen or accidentally leaked in the past decade, with more than 7,000 data breaches during the same timeframe. With data theft becoming the most prominent threat worldwide, organizations need to invest in security measures to reduce the risks of breaches.

However, if unfortunate data breaches do occur, businesses must know how to respond to minimize the damage. 

Signs of a Data Breach

1: Sudden critical file changes

Most data breaches are completed within minutes. Upon successful system infiltration, hackers try to remain undetected and may modify, change, delete, or replace system files while prolonging concealment in that short span. A temporary distraction allows hackers time to execute an attack and siphon sensitive information off a database.

Unless your organization proactively monitors critical file changes, these data breaches may go undetected for an extended period. The possibility of critical file changes can be substantial, especially for large organizations with a multifaceted IT infrastructure.

With cyberattacks getting more sophisticated, enlisting the help of IT professionals, investing in advanced security tools, and monitoring the network around the clock are essential in detecting suspicious file changes.

Once an anomaly is discovered, it’s crucial to identify who, when, and why the changes were made. Telling the difference between normal and peculiar changes is imperative.

2: Login issues and locked accounts

Login issues and locked accounts may be a sign of “phishing,” wherein the hacker acquires personal information risking not just the account but potentially a system takeover. If your account has been compromised, take the appropriate measures to minimize potential damage. Your IT team needs to review account access and password changes to reset credentials if necessary.

Using multi-factor authentication creates an additional layer of security. This defense system requires user validation across all accounts for the individual not to rely on passwords for device security solely.

3: Slow network speeds

Immediately run a scan if your network speed sees a significant dip in performance. This unusual slowdown may be due to heavy file transfers outside the network, onboard malware, viruses, or suspicious outbound traffic. Malware uses substantial bandwidth, leading to other connected devices slowing down. Antivirus programs can help scan and identify the cause of slow internet connection.

4: Apparent device tampering

If a device continues to run even after shutdown, it may be a sign of physical tampering or remote access and should be addressed immediately. If you think something’s amiss, do not enter sensitive data such as user login credentials or access highly-secured areas of your system.

Other telltale signs of device tampering can be an influx of pop-up messages, fake antivirus warnings, and suspicious browser toolbars. Hackers employ these tactics to provoke users into closing pop-up windows or regaining control of the computer so they can explore the network deeper. Do not continue using the device or attempt to remedy the situation by yourself; instead, contact your IT or cybersecurity team for guidance.

5: Strange administrative user activity

Compromised privileged user accounts are an indicative sign of a data breach. A hacker typically establishes a system presence and locks out the user or moves laterally to users with higher privileges. Suspicious activity should automatically prompt an investigation.

It’s a must to review account logs of users with administrative access privilege, check who viewed confidential information, and determine who made permission changes in the system. With the implementation of a remote working setup due to the pandemic, it’s also important to remind your staff to be mindful of suspicious activities.

6: Unusual system behavior

Computer or software programs that freeze and crash constantly may be caused by potential malware infection or viruses that monitor your computer, corrupt files, and consume device resources. Much like device tampering, signs of unusual system behavior are pop-up messages or new browser toolbars. Users with malware-infected hardware may also see their cursor move uninitiated.

What to Do in Case of a Data Breach

1: Confirm the breach and determine if your data was exposed

The first action is to confirm the occurrence of a breach, even if you were directly notified of it. Verify with your company or check the secure official website. There is a chance that the notification was merely a hacker posing as a company representative, fooling you into divulging sensitive information.

You need to determine if your data was exposed and up to what extent, so you can assess the damage and formulate measures to secure or retrieve these stolen data.

2: Secure your operations

Act quickly by securing your systems and fixing vulnerabilities. Immediately secure physical areas related to the breach by locking entry and exit points and changing access codes if necessary. Never let your guard down since there may still be multiple other breaches after the initial attack. After a thorough investigation, inquire with cyber forensics and law enforcement as to when you can resume operations.

3: Stop additional data loss

Immediately take all affected hardware offline without turning off the machines until forensic experts arrive. Closely monitor all entry and exit points of your system.

Additionally, force an update of all your authorized users’ credentials and passwords. Even if you’ve removed the hacker tools, your system is still vulnerable until you update those credentials.

4: Identify the type of data stolen

It’s crucial to identify what type of data was stolen. Information like logins, passwords, and other vital credentials make it easier for cybercriminals to steal identities and re-access your company’s system if not updated. If the data stolen was employee or end user Personally Identifying Information (PII), depending on your state you may have obligations to report the breach. 

5: Notify the right people and take additional action

Let affected users know about the incident early on. While it is crucial to assess the extent of the damage first, it’s also integral to immediately notify customers and authorities of the breach to prevent damage to the organization’s reputation.

Take additional actions like reinforcing your security and addressing inconsistencies in your system to reduce and prevent any future data breach attempts. Backlash should be expected; however, being transparent early on saves your company the trouble of initiating damage control.

6: Remain alert and monitor your accounts

Cybercriminals could store your data for months or years and, in some instances, even choose to sell your data for immediate or later use. After the breach, don’t fall into a false sense of security, as hackers tend to pool information to gain access to more accounts. Staying alert and constantly monitoring your accounts reduces the risk of another data breach.

7: Perform a security audit

It’s essential to conduct a security audit after a breach, focusing on two issues: identifying how the hackers accessed your system and the fallout from the breach.

To pinpoint how the hackers penetrated your system, you must inspect server and network systems, staff logs, DNS records, open ports, and IP blocks. Experts in the field might find traces of phishing and brute force attacks, as these methods are still the most successful forms of cyberattacks.

The second issue to look at is the fallout from the breach. Your company needs to identify the extent of customer data stolen before divulging the breach to the public or people concerned and letting them know if they are at risk for future cyberattacks. If critical information such as passwords, date of birth, or personally identifiable details were stolen or leaked, it’s best to notify all parties involved to plan accordingly.

8: Update your recovery plan

The assessment should culminate in your company updating its recovery plan during and after a breach. Reviewing your data breach response and what your company could’ve done better provides insights moving forward to avoid another incident.

This post-breach analysis allows your company to employ initiatives like new security policies and training programs for in-depth learning and measures employees should take when faced with this situation.

Security is Key

Data breaches are a huge concern for companies, as cybercriminals develop more elaborate tactics to gain access to highly valuable data. However, organizations can calibrate and improve their security measures by identifying signs of a data breach and learning from their past mistakes. Keeping all these in mind will help your company battle data breach attempts and other security threats that may arise. 

If you require identity and access management solutions, consider a partnership with Q5iD. Q5id aims to reduce your risk of falling victim to identity theft and fraud. For further inquiries, contact us today, and let’s talk about the possibilities.