The message of being notified that your password appeared in a data leak should concern anyone. This happens to millions daily, even when using the most trusted and sophisticated companies. Password data leaks happen more often than many people think. The consequences can be severe if one doesn’t know how to respond.
What does it mean when a password appears in a data leak?
Let’s first explore the data leak meaning. Here, we refer to an incident where sensitive information has been accidentally or intentionally exposed. This typically happens on the internet with hackers who target large corporations with massive databases.
So, when you get a message of a password data leak, it suggests that the password has been publicly exposed online. How so? For instance, a hacker could target your go-to social media site by infiltrating its systems for emails and passwords.
If you’re using the same password with another service provider, they’d know about the breach experienced by the social media company. This is because they can match the password in their records against the leaked ones.
These events happen for a few reasons. From a user perspective, many people often use the same password for various sites. Usually, these may not have two-factor authentication, resulting in an easier bypass. Also, if you experience physical theft/loss of your phone or laptop, the criminal can access any saved passwords on these devices.
Still, data leaks are not always a user’s fault. Cybercriminals are constantly looking for software vulnerabilities in the largest companies. A leak can also happen when employees of your service provider fall into social engineering operations like phishing.
Data leak vs. data breach: what’s the difference?
We use the terms ‘data breach’ and ‘data leak’ interchangeably. Still, while similar, there is a subtle difference between the two. A data leak tends to be accidental, while a data breach is deliberate.
In the former, no external attack happens. Instead, information is revealed by chance due to an existing weakness.
An organization may have poor information security practices that unknowingly enable data to fall through the cracks. Or, it could be a worker misplacing their hard drive only for a passer-by to find it. On the other hand, a data breach is an intentional attack by a skilled hacker to steal precious information and other resources.
Let’s liken the two concepts to a stolen car. The equivalent of a data breach would be someone that came to your vehicle, smashed the window, hot-wired it, and drove off. A data leak would be you forgetting the keys in the ignition and leaving the door open. Someone could, by chance, walk past the car, take advantage of the situation and drive off with the vehicle.
Ultimately, data leaks and breaches result in private information being exposed to an individual or a group.
Is a data leak serious?
The value of information in this internet age is astounding. In the wrong hands, it can prove damaging in many ways, necessitating strong data leak protection.
We hold many valuable personal data like names, ID numbers, physical addresses, and banking details. All of these can allow a criminal to impersonate you in their crimes.
The loss of money can happen in various ways at a personal and corporate level. Think of a cybercriminal accessing your card details to transfer funds out of it. Companies may have money siphoned out of their accounts as well.
Moreover, they could face extra monetary costs like fines, higher insurance premiums, and legal fees.
Reputational damage for companies
If potential clients hear that a company has leaked data, they would be less inclined to engage with that organization. Customers lose confidence that any information they share is safe from intrusion.
Loss of intellectual property
Plenty of creative work like software, music, photos, inventions, designs, and book manuscripts may disappear due to a data leak.
Why do data leaks happen?
Let’s look at the main causes:
Poor password practices
One way people don’t prevent data leaks is by mishandling passwords. An example is using the same password across multiple platforms. Another overlooked problem is how some new devices come with default login credentials. Here, you receive generic usernames and passwords like ‘admin’ or ‘12345.’ It becomes a risk if you don’t change this information after receiving the device.
Weak or common passwords
This relates to the previous section about bad practices. Hackers are well aware that tons of people use predictable passwords. So, if yours forms part of that group, it becomes easier for them to breach it.
Phishing is the most common way cybercriminals trick people into revealing precious information. At this stage, the victim may give up their email login credentials. However, this bit of data can open the floodgates for the hacker to access even more sensitive content from different accounts.
Physical theft of devices
If a thief finds a computing device where you have no passwords or encryption on your content, it can easily lead to a leak.
When some of your passwords have appeared in a data leak, it may be due to weaknesses in an operating system, like outdated software and zero-day exploits.
How to avoid data leaks
Fortunately, we can provide you with the things to implement in your data leak prevention strategy.
Set up 2FA or MFA authentication
Over the last few years, many online services have implemented 2FA. Consider this feature for any existing or new platform, as it can drastically reduce the chances of someone accessing your account.
Delete inactive accounts
When your password has appeared in a data leak, it may be caused by an account you no longer use. The simple solution is to delete any inactive account. You decrease your digital footprint or online visibility to those looking to expose passwords.
Update your passwords
Many experts advise changing your password at least monthly or every two months. However, what’s more crucial is that you use a password that is not predictable enough to appear in a leak.
Evaluate and update data storage
We spend far more time storing data than we do moving it around. Therefore, you need to monitor your data storage. For example, you may consider adding encryption or password protection to all your offline folders.
Also, it’s essential that you permanently delete old or irrelevant data, as it can still be useful for hackers.
Access and audit security
Here, organizations verify that the necessary safeguards are in place to protect their data and prevent attacks. A thorough security audit will assess how secure the entire system is, looking at the physical configuration, user practices, and environment.
Secure all endpoints
Here, we refer to phones, lap/desktop computers, services, or any other device that connects to a network. The key is to:
Have visibility of all endpoints
Implement data leak prevention software
Fix infections on the spot when they arise
Keep a clean workspace with no unattended devices
Use unique and strong passwords
In most cases, the passwords that come up in data leaks are not difficult to guess for password crackers. Here is a fun fact: it would take about 34 000 years for a computer to crack a 12-character password with one capital letter, special symbol, and number.
The moral of the story is to create a unique password that doesn’t start with ‘password.’
Monitor 3rd party risk
Companies inevitably deal with external vendors, suppliers, and business partners. Each of these can bring unintended third-party risks, which are worth observing.
Remove access to vulnerable data when an employee leaves
Breaches do not always come from external forces but can stem much closer to home. Staff turnover can result in data loss. Therefore, firms need certain procedures in place, like:
Disabling access to applications and devices and changing passwords
Monitoring these applications for a period after the exit
Removing administrator access
In your data leak prevention solutions, Duckist can prove a lifesaver. Encryption is of the highest importance when you share passwords and other secret files via the internet. Duckist helps with this activity.
When you transfer content with this service, it is encrypted so that no third party (including hackers) can access it.
What to do in case of a data leak?
So, you’ve just experienced a compromised password data leak; how do you respond?
Don’t panic. At this stage, you must figure out which account is likely associated with the leaked password. With this information, you can report the incident. Furthermore, you should keep your eyes open for unusual activity on your accounts.
Immediately change all passwords
Even when figuring out the compromised account, changing all your passwords across the board is imperative.
Monitor your financial accounts and credit reports
Here, you would observe any unusual activity and report to your bank where necessary. You can also reset PINs/passwords, temporarily freeze your card or account, or transfer money to a different account.
Also, look at your credit report to help monitor potential fraud, identity theft, or any unfamiliar address in your name.
As the internet has become embedded in our lives, it’s often a matter of when you will have your data compromised rather than if it will happen. The best you can do is to stay vigilant at all times.
You don’t need to feel helpless should you experience a massive password data leak when you can implement every reasonable security measure at your disposal.