Data security is important whether you're in charge of a company or don't want to become a victim of identity theft. Security breaches and data breaches can take down companies, cost businesses millions of dollars, and wreak havoc on individuals. So before you take the right security measures to protect your business, it's important to understand what security breaches are and how they can impact you.

What is a security breach?

A security breach is when someone gains access to computer data, networks, devices, or applications without permission.

Often, this will happen when a hacker can bypass security systems currently in place.


While a security breach and a data breach might seem the same, a data breach happens when a cybercriminal steals information while a security breach breaks into your system. So, a security breach is like when a criminal breaks in through your front door, but a data breach is when the criminal leaves with your jewelry.

A hacker breaks into the computer system of businesses and organizations because confidential information is very valuable. Often, it will be sold on the dark web for a massive profit. Confidential information, such as credit card numbers, social security numbers, names, and addresses, is sold on the dark web to criminals trying to commit fraud or identity theft.

As a business, you are responsible for the data you collect. Security breaches can cost your company quite a bit of money. The average data breach costs a company $9.44 million in the United States. This is more than double the average globally, which is $4.35 million.

While you might believe security breaches are inevitable, it's important to do your best to avoid them. Keeping a breach from happening starts with understanding the most common security breaches you might face.

5 Common Types of Security Breaches

1. Malware Attack

A very common way a security breach can happen is with a malware attack. This type of attack might happen through a phishing email used to gain access to your system. All it takes is one employee clicking on the wrong link in an email, and malicious software can be spread throughout your network.

2. Social Engineering

While it's harder for cybercriminals to pull off, social engineering is a way they can get into your system. The criminal might call an employee and claim they are from the company's IT helpdesk. Then, they might ask for the password to the computer, so they can access it and "fix" it, but they are just trying to gain access for malicious reasons.

3. Drive-By Downloads

A drive-by download will use malware or a virus that is delivered through a spoofed website that has been compromised.

4. Exploit Attack

An exploit attack targets some type of vulnerability in your system, such as an out-of-date operating system. For example, if you are running an outdated version of Microsoft Windows, a hacker might use an exploit to attack this system.

5. Weak Passwords

Of course, a weak password is very vulnerable as hackers have programs that can guess many passwords very quickly. If your passwords are weak, they can be guessed or cracked. This is why using a strong password is so important to your organization's information security.

Examples of Major Security Breaches

Security breaches and data breaches have impacted many companies recently and in the past decade. Some of the major breaches include:

Very recently, a cell phone provider disclosed it had a data breach that impacted tens of millions of customers.. This data breach exposed customer names, addresses, account numbers, and more.

A notification was sent out by a financial service on stating that about 35,000 customer accounts were improperly accessed. It was a credential-stuffing attack aimed at stealing login credentials.

Another large data breach impacted a fashion retailer in 2023. Hackers may have accessed the personal information of 10 million customers through scam emails, texts, and calls.

As it's easy to see through these examples, it's not just the employees of a company that can be targeted and cause the issues. Third-party breaches can happen, too. Therefore, it's important to be careful when working with vendors and allowing access to confidential information.

Most Common Targets of Hackers

While anybody can be a victim of a cyber attack, there are specific targets hackers go after the most, which include:

Small Businesses

A big target of hackers, small businesses often don't have the resources to invest heavily in cyber security. This leaves many companies vulnerable, and a report from Verizon shows that 43% of cyber attacks impact small businesses. Hackers often use a phishing attack to gain access to a small business system.

Government Agencies

It is no surprise that hackers go after government agencies, such as law enforcement offices. Government agencies often store personal information for millions of people, so they become a target of hackers. State and local governments are big targets of ransomware attacks because they often have older, outdated systems.

Financial Institutions

Another massive target of hackers is any type of financial institution. This type of company has sensitive data hackers want and can become victims of a data breach or security breach. It's common for attacks to come through app-based trojans and fake banking apps. Hackers often go after individual customers but may also go after the entire institution.

Healthcare and Human Services

Cybersecurity attacks have been growing in the healthcare and human services sector for years. In fact, over the past three years, more than 90% of healthcare organizations have reported a data or security breach. Often, these attacks include ransomware, and attacks on healthcare only got worse in 2020 due to COVID-19. Hackers are after health information, and about 30% of the cyberattacks on hospitals included ransomware in 2020.

Utility and Energy Companies

The Colonial Pipeline attack in 2021 is one of the recent examples of cyber security breaches against utility and energy companies. Hackers took down this large fuel pipeline, which led to gas shortages across the East Coast of the United States. This was one of the largest ransomware attacks in 2021, and many believe the energy sector will continue to be a target of cyber threats.


Since learning and teaching are now done with so much technology, schools are vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Ransomware, spyware, adware, and trojans are common in the education industry. Hackers have shut down entire systems in this industry by gaining unauthorized access.

While any company or individual can be a target of an attack, these are some of the most commonly targeted by hackers.

What should be done in the event of a security breach?

With data breaches, it's important to act fast. You can mitigate the damage if you can deal with it before the information is stolen and it's still a security breach. In some cases, acting quickly can help keep your data from becoming exposed. Here are some ways to handle a security breach or data breach and protect sensitive data.

1. When a breach impacts your financial information, let all your banks and financial institutions know immediately.

2. Whether it's a data breach or a security breach, it's time to change your accounts' passwords. Make sure you change the security questions and the PIN codes, too.

3. A credit freeze might be necessary to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft or stealing your personal information.

4. Put up your guard immediately, as another cyber attack might be coming if the criminal didn't get everything they wanted or they think your system is still vulnerable.

5. Start monitoring your accounts for new activity and report any unauthorized transactions.

6. Try to figure out which personal data was stolen and how severe the security breach or data breach was.

Common Consequences of a Security Breach

While the most common consequence of a security breach is losing sensitive data and money, you might suffer even more consequences. It's not uncommon for a security breach to have a long-term impact on your company, especially if it turns into a data breach.

One of the consequences of a security breach you might suffer is the CISO and CEO being pitted against each other. The CEO might blame the CISO, even though the CEO is most often held at fault by the public. This can lead to the CEO or CISO becoming the fall guy for the company.

It's also common for brands to be damaged by data breaches. Customers who feel like their most personal information was stolen might struggle to trust your brand and company. Unfortunately, this can last for years, and some customers may never return.

While a bit less common, it's harder to attract good employees after a data breach, especially in the IT department. A data breach might result in employee turnover as some may not want to deal with the stress of the incident or the blame that trickles down to those in the IT department.

There could also be legal penalties you will face after a security breach. Therefore, having your legal team on top of things and ensuring you follow all state and federal laws after a breach is important. This will include notifying customers and vendors. If laws are not properly followed, you might be open to a lawsuit and have to pay legal penalties.

How to Prevent Security Breaches from Happening to Your Business or Organization

1. Change Passwords Regularly

Strong passwords are the first line of defense against cyber threats. Weak passwords are compromised passwords, easily letting hackers into your system.

2. Keep Employees Informed About Phishing Schemes

A strong policy about what you allow employees to click on and how you allow them to browse the internet can help protect your company. Reminding employees regularly about phishing emails they might receive is important.

3. Be Careful with Vendors

With third-party cyber threats on the rise, it's important to be careful who you work with and allow to have your company's information. Make sure you do your due diligence whenever you hire a new vendor or buy a new software product for your company.

4. Have a Strategy in Place in the Event of a Security Breach

Many experts believe it's not if, but when you deal with a security breach, it's important to plan for it. Risk management strategies, including an incident response cybersecurity protocol, need to be in place. Ensure you know how to handle a security or data breach when your company is attacked.

How can RiskRecon help me?

When you get a RiskRecon demo, you will find out what type of cyber security needs you have and where you might be vulnerable. Our team will ensure you have the information you need and the help you need to be better protected from a cyber attack.