Data breaches are happening at an alarming rate. Every day, there are news reports of large companies having confidential data stolen.

It has become a daily occurrence that people appear to be desensitized to the news. However, data breaches should be the concern of everyone, not just big business. Your personal information, once it is stolen, could be used against you.

According to a report published by the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), there were a reported 1,293 cases of data breach in 2017, the highest number of breaches in recent history. The data breaches were estimated to have compromised a total of 174 Million records which was 45% above the figure posted in 2016.

It does not seem that 2018, or 2019, will show any sign of improvement. In 2018, several big companies including Macy’s, Ticketmaster, Adidas, Sak’s Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, FedEx, Aetna, Orbitz, Under Armour, Panera Bread, Chili’s, TaskRabbit, Exactis, Polar Fitness Trackers, Reddit, Instagram, and the U.S. Air Force have all reported incidents of data breach.

It is not enough that businesses have to deal with the reality of data breaches. In addition to being mandated by law to report the breach, a company may be penalized by as much as 4% of its annual gross income if data comes from citizens of the European Union (EU). This is in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which was adopted by the EU in April 2016.

  • What Is A Data Breach?

A data breach is an incident whereby confidential information is stolen by a cybercriminal who uses unauthorized means to infiltrate or bypass a source of data.

Cybercriminals can steal data by having physical access to a network or by using intricately designed software with the capability to bypass security systems from a remote location.

What are the steps taken by cybercriminals when planning a data breach operation?

  1. Location Surveillance / Research – Like the proverbial “thief in the night”, the cybercriminal scopes out the intended location of the data breach. Research is undertaken to uncover potential entry points and weak areas in the system.
  2. Infiltration – Infiltration or system of attack can be of two varieties. The first is social infiltration whereby the cybercriminal uses an employee, usually a “planted” employee or spy to gain access to sensitive networks and steal data. The second is network infiltration whereby malware programs are used to overcome security systems to extract the data.
  3. Escape or Exfiltration – Once the data has been stolen and secured, the cybercriminal will exit the network through established escape routes. Think of it like bank robbers making tunnels as an escape route after infiltrating the safe. However, the cybercriminal may finish the job by planting software that will ultimately destroy the entire network.

What Types Of Data Are Stolen And What Are The Cybercriminals’ Motives?

Cybercriminals will steal any type of data which carries monetary value. As we mentioned, once your personal information is stolen, the hacker can use this to make money at your expense.

For example, they can duplicate your credit card. In many cases, they will use your identity to carry out fraudulent activities including blackmail. Another source of income would be the Deep Web, whereby large volumes of data can command a good price.

Here is a shortlist of personal information hackers usually target:

  • Subscriber’s/ Customer’s Complete Name
  • Date of Birth
  • Social Security Number
  • Driver’s License Number
  • Passport Number
  • Email Address
  • Savings Account Number
  • Current Account Number
  • Medical Information
  • Insurance Information
  • Residential Address
  • Office Address
  • Landline Number
  • Mobile Number

Here is a summary of the most notorious data breaches since 2014 and the types of data that were stolen by cybercriminals:

Company Industry Type of Data
TimeHop Mobile App User Information
SingHealth Healthcare Medical Information
Equifax Information Technology User Information
Ashley Madison Social Media Subscriber Information
Target Dry Goods Retail Credit / Debit Card Information
Anthem Healthcare Personal Information
U.S. OPM Government Agency Federal Information
Deloitte Consultancy Confidential Emails
JP Morgan Chase & Co. Finance Client Information
University of Maryland Education Personal Information
  • How To Identify Data Breaches

Data breaches are not just the problem of big business. If you own a small business, you should be more concerned about the risk of being hacked by cybercriminals.

According to the latest report by cyber-security expert Symantec, attacks on small businesses by cybercriminals have been growing exponentially since 2011. In 2015, 43% of hackers trained their sights on small businesses. The number represented a massive increase of 138% from 2011 figures.

Why do cybercriminals target small businesses? There are number of valid reasons:

  1. Majority of businesses registered; approximately 98% are all considered small-sized enterprises. Thus, for cybercriminals, small businesses are like food choices in an all-you-can-eat buffet. The more options, the merrier.
  2. Small business owners have limited resources and are not as tightly-managed. Yes, many do have Internet security measures in place.

However, many do not have the resources to adequately maintain these protocols. For example, having a web developer on retention to regularly update firewalls and anti-virus programs, website plugins, and other security systems.

  1. Small businesses do not make much noise. Who has heard of a local Mom and Pop’s store being hacked? The media does not report that your neighbourhood flower shop’s database was infiltrated. They tend not to report data breaches for fear of backlash and the ensuing penalties.

Whether you are a small business owner or the founder of a large corporation, there are signs that your system or network has been hacked. Here are 4 tell-tale signs of a possible data breach:

  • Internet or Computers Appear to Have Slowed Down

It is normal for businesses to experience slow Internet service particularly during peak hours of the day. However, if it goes for a prolonged periods of time and involves different computers, you should take this as a sign of a potential breach.

A compromised computer could be infected with malware. It could be running illegal activity or its data could be in the process of being stolen from a remote location.

If your computer performing in a highly-unusual way and you’ve run the usual system checks, there is a good possibility it has been infected. This is why it is absolutely important to keep your anti-virus programs and firewalls updated.

It is also important to have your website audited by a web developer. Some of its plugins could be out-dated while others are hardly used. These types of plugins are potential entry points for malware.

  • Your PC Has Signs of Being Tampered With

It is standard procedure for you to shut off your computer before going home from work. One morning you come inside the office and notice your computer has been turned on. You notice a number of programs have been running from the time you left the office the previous night.

Don’t assume you simply forgot to turn off the computer. Assume the worse. Someone could have accessed your files and extracted sensitive information. Even if your folders and files are in place, they could have been copied.

If you are sharing office space with co-workers or employees, don’t keep your guard down and assume everyone can be trusted. Have your email encrypted and use a software program that can manage and protect your passwords.

  • Increased Frequency of Pop-Ups and Advertising Content

Do you find yourself increasingly annoyed by pop-up ads as well as being redirected to new websites? You may have unwittingly uploaded malware software on your computer while browsing.

These pop-up ads are not designed to annoy you. Many of these are actually hacker programs that once clicked upon will give the cybercriminal access to your precious data files. Another sign is if your browsing speed has become noticeably slower.

There are ways that you can avoid indiscriminately uploading malware onto your computer.

First, don’t visit spurious websites. They are favourite setup locations of cybercriminals. Second, don’t click on suspicious-looking emails.

If you receive one from a contact that seems unlikely that it came from him/her, send a clarification email. Third, use an anti-virus program that screens websites for safety and security.

  • You’ve Been Locked Out of Your Account

This is a dead giveaway. If you can’t access your email or social media account that is because it has been compromised. Your password has been changed.

Some email providers as well as social media platforms have security measures in place. They will send you a notification on your mobile phone if there is a potential breach in security.

However, these are not always effective. The best approach is to change your passwords frequently and use a password management software program to keep track of the new access codes.


Just because it has not happened to you does not mean it never will. When it comes to data protection, everyone should be concerned. Invest in the best anti-virus programs, keep them updated, and consult with a cyber-security expert on instituting data security protocols.