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Biggest Data Breaches of the 21st Century – And What You Can Learn From Them

Biggest Data Breaches Of The 21st Century – And What You Can Learn From Them

Organizations need to keep pace with the evolving business landscape. Now, most businesses have some sort of digital presence. Without the sufficient industry insight and tools in place, they’re vulnerable to cyberattacks more than ever.

A cyberattack, such as a data breach, occurs when an unauthorized person gains access to private and sensitive information.  The three types of information at risk are (1) control systems, (2) user accounts, and (3) financial data. A data breach occurs for several reasons; these include weak and stolen credentials, theft of a corporate asset, application vulnerabilities, phishing attacks, and insider threats.

The absence of a proper security system puts you at great risk of a cyberattack. The consequences can range from damage to your brand’s reputation to revenue loss. These consequences have long-term ramifications that will cost your company large amounts of money, from the legal fees to PR cost.

Although most reports of data breaches concern large and established brands, your business is still susceptible. Studying other companies’ data breaches helps you avoid these scenarios.

The insight we’ll share with you today allows you to identify the holes and pain points in your security system, and ultimately, determine the necessary solutions to protect you from data breaches.

Victims of the 21st Century’s Biggest Data Breaches

In the last ten years, America has experienced massive cyberattacks that compromised billions of people’s personal and financial information.

Learning the nature of these attacks and how the hackers managed to compromise the security some of the world’s biggest companies will assist you in improving your security system.

  • Yahoo!

When It Happened: 2013-2014

Damage Done: 3 billion user accounts compromised (including security questions and their answers)

How It Happened:

In 2016, Yahoo announced that it experienced a major data breach back in 2014. The cyberattack compromised 500 million user accounts. However, another announcement, a couple of months later, shocked the world. Yahoo disclosed that it discovered another data breach that dated back to 2013. This earlier hack compromised all three billion user accounts. The hackers gained access to everything, from personal information to security questions.

Both breaches dealt a serious blow to the former Internet giant. At the time of its announcements, Yahoo was in the middle of negotiations with Verizon Inc. The disclosure of the data breaches influenced the latter to reduce its offer by $350 million. After its sale, Yahoo became Altaba Inc. and it settled three data breach lawsuits for $47 million in 2018.

  • eBay

When It Happened: 2014

Damage Done: 145 million user accounts compromised

How It Happened:

In 2014, eBay announced that it was the victim of a major cyberattack. The online auction site disclosed that hackers compromised 145 million user accounts. It reported that the hackers gained access with three employees’ corporate credentials. The cybercriminals reportedly had access to the private network for 229 days. Luckily for users, eBay stores financial information in a separate network. However, this did not protect their personal information from getting out.

The resulting backlash focused on eBay’s inefficiency in handling the situation. Its poor implementation of the password renewal process, in particular, was heavily criticized. Moreover, the company lacked the appropriate communication process in informing its users.

  • Facebook

When It Happened: 2016-2018

Damage Done: 50 million user accounts compromised

How It Happened:

In 2018, Facebook disclosed that a data breach compromised 50 million user accounts. The hackers exploited a feature called “View As” to look through other people’s accounts. This allowed them to use bugs to steal access tokens. These tokens are security keys that allow users to stay logged in over multiple sessions without having to re-enter their passwords every time.

The breach came as a blow to Facebook as it was still recovering from the Cambridge Analytica scandal. This scandal accused the social networking site of allowing the data analysis firm to access users’ information. The information gathered was allegedly used for targeted digital marketing during the 2016 Presidential Elections.

Both incidents have since compromised Facebook’s reputation. Although users were instructed how to reset their access tokens, third parties already had their personal information. The 2018 disclosure resulted in Facebook’s stocks falling by three percent.

  • Target Stores

When It Happened: 2013

Damage Done: 110 million user accounts compromised (including credit and debit card information)

How It Happened:

In December 2013, Target disclosed that it recently learned of a data breach. However, what shocked the public was when the attack occurred. The retail giant admitted that it took them a couple of months to discover the breach.

Target reported that point-of-sale payment card readers were used to access user information. These hackers compromised and collected 40 million credit and debit card numbers. However, during its investigation, Target increased this number to 110 million.

This cyberattack resulted in the resignation of its CEO and CIO in mid-2014. Moreover, security experts criticized Target for its resulting solutions. The retail giant focused more on keeping attackers out than improving the response process.

  • JP Morgan Chase

When It Happened: 2014

Damage Done: 76 million households and 7 million small businesses compromised

How It Happened:

JP Morgan Chase shocked America when it announced that it was the victim of a data breach.  The incident compromised 76 million households and seven million small businesses. Aside from personal information, the breach also compromised internal information. The latter is the bank’s information about its clients.

Although the hackers didn’t steal any money from clients, they did gain the authority to transfer funds and close accounts. They were eventually arrested and charged with identity theft, securities and wire fraud, money laundering, and unauthorized access of computers.

This cyberattack presented a sobering warning to organizations around the world. Even with JP Morgan Chase’s annual $250 million investment in security, it still fell victim to a data breach.

  • Adult Friend Finder

When It Happened: 2016

Damage Done: 412.2 million user accounts compromised

How It Happened:

The FriendFinder Network fell victim to a massive cyberattack in 2016. The hackers gained access to 20 years of data from six different databases. The network’s lack of smart and innovative security systems made it an easy target. Using only the SHA-1 hashing system, hackers easily gained access to 412.2 million user accounts.

This breach came as no surprise since the networking site experienced an attack the previous year. In 2015, 3.5 million accounts were held for ransom. The company’s lack of digital security measures is constantly exploited by hackers.

  • US Office of Personnel Management

When It Happened: 2012-2014

Damage Done: 22 million current and former federal employees’ personal and security information compromised

How It Happened:

In 2014, the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) disclosed that it fell victim to a data breach in 2012. A couple of weeks later, it reported that it experienced another breach that occurred in 2014. While neither attacks had the same hackers, both compromised 22 million federal employees’ personal information.

It is unclear how the first hacker gained access to the private network. However, the investigation discovered that the second hacker gained access through a third-party contractor. Both hackers gained access to security clearance information and fingerprint scans.

An inspector general called out the OPM’s lack of basic digital security system in a report. They stated that aside from its lack of encryption, the OPM didn’t even have an inventory of servers and databases. High-intelligence officials, at the time, stated that the breach will have consequences for decades to come.

Best Practices to Enhance Your Digital Security System

There are several ways to prevent a data breach in your organization. The above examples should serve as a guide on What NOT to Do. Additionally, adopting best practices laid out by industry experts enhances your security system.

1. Staff Training and Awareness

A data breach is not only vulnerable to external attacks. Sometimes, your information gets compromised due to the lack of internal security protocols. eBay’s data breach is an example of how internal factors can be the source of the attack.

Misinformed employees are the biggest threats to your security. Training and educating your employees on data security will reduce your risk cyberattacks. Identifying risky online behavior, such as accessing adult content on a work device, informs them of what to avoid at work. They will be more careful online once they understand the gravity of the situation.

Investing in training sessions and digital security seminars for your employees will proactively protect you from cyberattacks.

2. Regular Risk Assessments

The criticism the OPM received for its data breach focused on its lack of foresight. Before the hack, security experts already warned the organization of the inadequacy of its security system. However, the OPM still failed to improve this system which eventually resulted in its vulnerability.

Conducting regular risk assessments avoids this scenario. You will be able to identify hazards and risk factors to your security system. After which, you can analyze and evaluate the situation more clearly. This will help you determine the right solutions for the improvement of your system.

3. Data Encryption

The FriendFinder had several vulnerabilities to its security system. However, its lack of a sophisticated data encryption system exposed it to repeated cyberattacks. As a business, you have access to all of your customers’ sensitive information. It is in both of your best interests to protect these at all costs. A good data encryption system will scramble your data so it’s only readable by authorized personnel. Investing in this technology makes it more difficult for hackers to gain access to your data.

4. Data Backup

From New York City to Kansas City, data backup and recovery are essential for any organization. Data loss can happen to anyone. It can happen with hardware defects or a ransomware attack. Preparing yourself for the worst will lessen the damage.

There are different ways you can back up your data. The cloud is a good place to store your digital information. However, it needs its own security system to protect it from cyberattacks. Maintaining offsite backups protects your data from attacks to your internal networks. This preventive measure keeps sensitive information, both yours and your customers’, safe from threats.

5. Up-to-Date Security Software

Application vulnerabilities caused Facebook’s massive data breach. Often, simply choosing to use the best security technology is not enough. The system you adopt for your organization should be well-suited to your needs. Otherwise, your investment is for naught.

Choose security software that is appropriate for your business. Keep it up-to-date with patches to server technology and client-side operating systems. Take advantage of automatic update services to make it more convenient for your operations.

6. Breach Response

Sometimes, it isn’t the ineffective security system that receives the most criticism. In Target and Facebook’s data breaches, most took offense with their response processes. The inadequacies of their breach response compromised their reliability and trustworthiness. For small to medium businesses, this can spell catastrophe for their reputation.

Developing a data breach response plan reduces risk factors to your databases. Moreover, it effectively mitigates any damage that occurs should you do get breached.

Start with a comprehensive site assessment to identify vulnerable areas. Next, implement measures that will limit human error. Create a breach response team that has the authority to take the necessary steps to immediately address a breach. Partner with a forensic professional who can help you deal with the aftermath of a cyberattack. Additionally, develop a PR plan on how to disclose the breach and the solutions to be taken afterwards.

7. Professional Solutions

There are several hazards and risk factors involved in digital security systems. Investing in professional assistance improves your organization’s ability to protect its data. These experts have the necessary tools and resources to develop a customized security system for your business.

Let NetStandard Protect Your Data from Breaches

By learning from the mistakes of these organizations and following the provided steps, you are better positioned to protect your company against data breach. Although it can feel like a daunting uphill climb, NetStandard is here to assist you.

We developed our data management solutions to shield companies from cyberattacks. Our team will closely work with you to customize these products and services to suit your business. We employ a comprehensive process that determines your vulnerabilities and the possible solutions.

NetStandard has been successfully helping other companies secure their networks. Let us do the same for you. Get in touch with us today.

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