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Data Breaches Explained: Understanding the Risks and Responses

Data Breaches Explained

If any of your personal information is available online, the chances are, it has been exposed to cybercriminals via a data breach at least once. Most corporations have ways to mitigate this exposure and will inform you if a breach has occurred. However, a disastrous personal data breach can lead to identity fraud and a litany of other issues. And since these issues can affect everyone, understanding data breaches is important for everyone.

The good news is, if this occurs through a company’s website, their cybersecurity team may track the exposed data and take steps to protect you. If you experience a personal data breach, there are ways you can protect yourself too.  

Once you understand how a breach can occur, the risks data breaches present, and the responses that large corporations and individuals can make to mitigate these threats, you can breathe easier any time you’re online.   

What is a data breach?

A data breach is the result of targeted vulnerabilities in cybersecurity and occurs when unauthorized parties (often hackers) access extremely sensitive information. This information includes (but isn’t limited to) corporate or government confidential data, intellectual property, classified, top secret documents, and personal information like social security numbers and bank account access.

Basically, any information that academic institutions, corporations, and government entities can be vulnerable to a data breach, and your personal details could end up sold to the highest bidder on the dark web, or used by bad actors to wreak havoc on your life.

How do data breaches differ from cyberattacks?

Although data breaches and cyberattacks often go hand in hand, they are not quite the same thing. A cyberattack refers to the actions of an individual or group of cyber criminals who have malicious intent and may want to access private data, but confidential data isn’t necessarily the target. 

A data breach can often result from a cyberattack but refers to the exposure of confidential and sensitive information to unintended and unauthorized recipients.

How data breaches occur

Outdated cybersecurity and uninstalled software and firmware updates might pave the path for a major data breach. However, there are numerous ways for a bad actor to create a data breach.   

Some of the most common ways data breaches occur include:


Targeted cyberattacks by individuals or groups of hackers could expose confidential data. Once a hacker has access to your passwords and other credentials, they can utilize your personal data for nefarious purposes.

Human error:

We all make mistakes, and unfortunately, sometimes our mistakes lead to data breaches. In business, this could mean an employee inadvertently sends confidential files to the wrong recipient or fails to set up cybersecurity measures in a customer database. 

Personally, you may accidentally fall for an email phishing scam, add your personal information to a malicious website posing as a credible brand, or fail to install security updates. All of these missteps could lead to a breach of your personal data. 


The insidious malware beast can infiltrate your operating system and destroy your cybersecurity. Skimming scams at gas pumps, ATMs, and merchant credit card systems are types of malware created to hack your data and steal your financial information.

A keylogger is another type of malware used by hackers to create a data breach. This malware records the keystrokes you make on your smart device and sends this information back to the cybercriminals who installed it and then can use the data to hack your accounts.

Other forms of malware that lead to online data breaches include ransomware, computer viruses, and spyware that you can inadvertently download onto your computer or smart device.  

The cost of major data breaches

Understanding data breaches means understanding their cost. Data breaches can lead to identity theft, among other scams, and often prove costly to those who experience them. According to Statista, in 2023, the average cost of a corporate data breach was a staggering $9.48 billion.

The cost of a major data breach doesn’t just impact the breach’s target, the impact has ripple effects for customers, too. You may distrust a company that’s exposed your data, and feel reluctant to use their services any longer.

Examples of infamous data breaches

Examples of infamous data breaches  

In 2023, U.S. data breaches and unintended data exposure impacted 353 million people across the globe. IT and cybersecurity teams at a multitude of companies worked to mitigate the impact of these breaches, but they couldn’t prevent exposed databases sold on the dark web or utilized by numerous bad actors.

Some of the most infamous (and costly) data breaches include:

Wyze security camera breach of 2023:

Over 13,000 home security systems were hacked and allowed others video access to private residences. The company informed its customers of the hack and stated that less than 1% of its customers were impacted by the data breach.

HCA Healthcare data hack:

In July 2023, over 11 million patients were impacted by the data breach of HCA Healthcare. Although the healthcare juggernaut informed anyone whose data was exposed, some people reported identity theft and fraud as a result of the breach.

2017 Yahoo data breach:

Although the pioneer online platform is no longer seen as a premiere search engine, Yahoo’s 2017 data breach affected every single one of the 3 billion account holders worldwide.  Hackers gained access to phone numbers, birth dates, and other confidential personal information.

How to respond to data breaches

Best ways to respond to data breaches

If you don’t see the warning signs of a possible data breach before it occurs, there are steps you can take in the immediate aftermath to curtail its damage. Whether your personal smart devices have experienced data breaches, or you’re the victim of a corporate breach, actionable measures may help to curb your losses.

Some of the best responses to a data breach include:

  • Report the breach to your bank and to all 3 credit bureaus within 72 hours of the cyberattack
  • If you still have access to your online accounts, immediately change your passwords
  • Install all firmware, software, and security updates
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests changing all access codes to vulnerable physical areas in a business 
  • Utilize a data forensics team to create a strategic and thorough breach response
  • Increase the cybersecurity of your website and clear it of all exposed data
  • Audit and repair all vulnerabilities in equipment, physical data, and online breaches

How to protect yourself from data breaches

Now that you understand the risks of and best responses to data breaches, you may wonder if there’s any way to protect yourself from becoming the victim of a breach. 

Here are some simple ways to protect yourself from data breaches:

  • Always use strong passwords
  • Employ two-factor authentication on any online accounts that give you this option
  • Check your credit reports and look for warning signs of fraud
  • Don’t use your debit card for online purchases
  • Set your smart device for automatic security and software updates
  • Refrain from visiting unsecured websites 
  • Avoid opening suspicious emails, and never click on a questionable link within an email

Data breaches can occur as a result of malevolent intent, or even due to careless human error. However, you can avoid the most disastrous consequences of a breach by taking measures to protect yourself and understanding the risks and best responses to a data breach.

You can learn more about cyberattacks and cybersecurity at What Is My IP Address. Be sure to check out our blog for the latest insights and tips to protect yourself online.

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