What is a Data Leak and How to Handle One?

Losing your data is bad, but having it exposed in a data breach is even worse. The problem is getting worse every year, with more and more data leaks happening and affecting both small and large businesses, without prejudice.

Your business could also be at risk of a data leak, without you even realizing it. That's why, in this article, we'll explain what is a data leak and how to prevent data breaches from happening.

What is a Data Leak?

 Data Leak

Okay, so what exactly is a data leak or a data breach?

Are they even the same?

They're actually not, though the result is the same - exposing sensitive data.

Data leaks happen as a result of poor IT security tools and practices, mishandling sensitive information, a weakness that the cybercriminal can exploit, or an accident.

There's actually no attack here.

On the other hand, when it comes to a data breach, this happens after the hacker has made a successful attack after which they can secure confidential or protected information, whether through malicious software, social engineering attack, SQL injection or some other means.

What do Hackers Want With Your Stolen Information?

Data leak or data breach, the idea is the same - to get your company's or your customer's confidential data.

But why do cyber criminals want to gain unauthorized access to this in the first place?

Corporate Information

When it comes to the corporate information, hackers are primarily interested in the following:

Customer Information

Customer data is more often the main target of a data leak or data breach and why the hackers are looking for here is usually:

How to Protect Your Sensitive Data and Personally Identifiable Information from a Data Leak or Data Breach?

Data Leak or Data Breach

The good news is that both data leaks and data breaches can be prevented. In fact, it's better to try and prevent them than react to them, because once they happen, there's little you can do often.

Properly Identify Your Sensitive Data

Before you can protect data from security breaches in the first place, you need to identify what sensitive data or confidential information you need to protect in the first place.

Once again this can include:

Use Unique and Strong Passwords

Make sure that all your employee's user accounts are protected with strong and unique passwords at a minimum. Unfortunately, many data breaches happen because people use weak passwords and even reuse them for multiple accounts and that is exactly what may allow criminals to gain access.

Instead, try to make your passwords as unique as you can and store them in a password manager where you can easily access them.


At the end of the day, even the strongest password can be exposed one way or another. When that happens, there's really only one thing stopping the criminal from completely taking over your compromised data and that is multi-factor authentication or MFA.

MFA is a second layer of protection in addition to the password and it makes it much harder for a criminal to use your stolen credentials because they need an additional piece of information like a PIN or a token that they can only get if they have access to your mobile phone for instance.

Identify Weak Points

While it's difficult, if not impossible to know all weak points and security vulnerabilities that cyber criminals can expose, it's still important to have a good idea of what these are when it comes to your company.

For instance, one common weak point may be that your employees are using weak passwords or that they expose accidentally sensitive information on their social media. They may also be vulnerable to social engineering attacks, which then puts your entire company at risk and allows threat actors and identity thieves to gain access to protected data.

Another thing to secure are, of course, the devices themselves, including computers and mobile devices that your employees are using. This is especially important today when many companies have switched to a full or partial remote working model.

Assess Vendor Security Risks

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts to protect sensitive information on your end, data leaks can still happen as a result of poor security measures by vendors.

This is why you need to also be on high alert when it comes to any vulnerabilities from your vendors and evaluate how likely they are to be exposed to data breaches.

Encrypt Your Data

Finally, sometimes hackers eventually find a way to get your protected information, but the fight doesn't end there.

You still have one very good trick up your sleeve and that is encrypting your important data so that even if it gets into the wrong hands, the criminals would not be able to do anything with it without the proper decryption key.

Biggest Data Breaches and Leaks

Biggest Data Breaches

Finally, just to show you that we are not talking about this "simply because", here are some examples of data leaks and data breaches that led the exposed companies to great financial and reputational damage:

The biggest data leak to date, at least when it comes to the magnitude of records that were exposed happened to the adult live streaming website CAM4 on 16th March 2020. In it, 10.88 billion records, including names, countries of origin, usernames, sexual orientations, genders, language, chat and email correspondences, sign-up dates, IP addresses and more were discovered by the security research team at Safety Detectives.

Another disaster following a massive data leak was narrowly avoided thanks to the security researchers, who discovered that more than 8 billion records in the Advanced Info Service's database were publicly exposed. According to AIS, this did not include any personal details that could identify customers.

Only a few days removed from the CAM4's data leak, another one was discovered by Bob Diachenko. In it, over 5B records of a UK-based security company Keepnet Labs. The good news in all of this was that neither customer records nor company data were exposed, and the only data compromised was from the security incidents reported between 2019 and 2021.

The data lost included emails, email domain, leak source, passwords (including hashed ones) and hashtype.


Data breaches and data leakage are becoming a bigger and bigger problem every year. According to IT Governance, there were 1,243 security incidents in 2021, which included more than 5 billion breached records. Compared to that, there were 11% fewer incidents in 2020 (1,120), but with a lot more information exposed (20.1 billion records).

Protecting your information systems against different types of data breaches and leaks means that you have to be on constant alert against threat actors, but is the only way to protect your company's and your customer's confidential information from falling into the wrong hands.

Finally, here are some Dos and Don'ts to protect your company's data.

We hope this article will help you with that.