Data Leaks Explained: What Does Data Leak Mean?

Barely a day goes by without people or organizations crying foul of losing sensitive information through leaks or breaches. The push to safeguard electronic data has since given rise to a cyber-security market worth $150 billion.

What is a Data Leak?

A data leak is a phrase used to refer to information or a given set of data being exposed to unsanctioned people. It normally occurs due to internal errors attributed to poor data security, poor workmanship, and outdated or inferior systems.

With more people working from home, the risk of leaks has increased significantly. As a result, companies and organizations are facing a higher risk of data loss due to workers’ errors.

Contrary to perception, a data leak is not the same as a data breach. A leak mostly occurs due to an internal source exposing data intentionally or unknowingly. A breach is as a result of an external factor as part of a bigger plan executed by hackers that infiltrate a system.

Sources of Data leaks

They are broadly classified into four:


It is arguably one of the biggest sources of leaks in many organizations. It mostly occurs whenever employees or staff click a malicious link or open suspicious emails, only for the entire system to be attacked. Phishing can also occur on people sharing system passwords only for them to land in bad hands.

Shadow IT

This type of data leak often occurs when employees or staff resort to using IT tools and infrastructure not sanctioned by the company. While trying to get around a cumbersome process intended to safeguard data, the staff resort to using unauthorized IT tools that only leave the data vulnerable at risk to a potential leak. Some of the shadow IT tools include software as a service application, cloud technology and web applications.

Legacy Tools

While most data leaks occur through web applications and cloud solutions, insiders are usually at a higher risk of triggering authorized access by using certain tools. Some tools that increase the risk include USBs, Desktop email and print materials.

High risk individuals

The threat posed by high-risk individuals with huge amounts of control and power over data is usually high. A small mistake by one of these people can result in a significant leak.

What causes data leaks

Insufficient security protocols: Outdated systems with limited security protocols pose significant risks to data stored. All systems should always be up to date with current threats. In addition, all security protocols should always be configured to protect data.

  • Human error: Sharing and using the same passwords on multiple accounts increases the risk. If someone gets hold of the passwords, they can access multiple accounts and access valuable information.
  • Breaches in software: Mostly occur due to outdated systems or poor security protocols that often act as a loophole for hackers to gain access to the system

How to prevent data leak

Data leaks can easily be avoided as most are as a result of technical and human error. A robust defense mechanism should include restricting data access to ensure only specific people have access to certain information or data bases to reduce any vulnerability. Using self destructing messages to share sensitive data safely is one of the most easy to implement options. You can just share tools, like among your employees, and this already will prevent more than a half of sensitive data-sharing risks.

The security teams should also evaluate and update data storage and mechanism to ensure all loopholes are closed before someone uses them. Deleting old data is also a sure way of protecting an organization from leak risk.

Nevertheless, training insiders on emerging threats is a sure way of keeping them ahead of hackers and clear of a data breach. In this case, they will stay clear of phishing attacks or the use of shadowy tools.

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