4 most at-risk industries from internal data breaches

Cyber-security has become an important compliance issue in recent years as the frequency and severity of data breaches has increased. Information security incidents have made all organizations direct their resources to deal with cyber threats  and minimize its risks and consequences.

To prevent internal data leaks, it is essential for organizations to research potential threats that they could face. The list of threats depends mainly on the industry, type & value of data that they have. 

Some industries are more vulnerable to data breaches than others. There’s an ongoing debate about their ranking, but the four industries among them are: 

  • Finance & insurance
  • Healthcare Sector 
  • Governmental agencies / Public Administration
  • Education

It does not mean that other industries are less likely to be victims of internal data breaches. Energy & utilities, agriculture, construction, entertainment & media, and the economy can all be victims of internal data breaches. But the four sectors listed above are the most common as they englobe all nations and have the most significant amount of sensitive information. 

Most-at-risk sectors

  • Finance & insurance

The finance & insurance sector are prime targets for cyber threats dealing with personal information and money. 

According to a report by Varonis, server attacks and internal data theft are among the biggest concerns of today’s financial institutions. They have over 350,000 exposed sensitive files, making them one of the most at-risk industries for cyber attacks. 

Malicious insiders or hackers can use codes to infiltrate servers containing files to steal personal and financial information, either for financial gain or defamation. 

One of the most significant factors of insider attacks is increased employees’ departure due to layoffs, impacting financial firms and their customers. 

As an example, Cash App’s investing unit fell victim to insider attacks which affected their customers and the company’s reputation. 

A few months ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing emerged that revealed a former Cash App investing employee exposed customer data from 8 million accounts in December. 

Internal data breaches occur more widely than most people may realize. Removing privileged access during employee terminations is essential for solid cybersecurity programs.

  • Education: 

The pandemic of COVID-19 sparked the rise of hybrid and online education. Many educational institutions that did not previously work online are adjusting to new realities such as cloud data storage and usage, online documentation, payments, and digital data sources. Regardless, they are now more likely to suffer from a data leak or breach.

According to the Ponemon Institute‘s 2021 Cost of a Data Breach Report, the educational sector is among the top ten average data breach costs in 2021.

According to the Verizon 2021 Data Breach Investigation Report, social engineering ranked first among data breach patterns in education, with pretexting being the most common method of social engineering. By luring victims into tricky conversations, attackers use this technique to initiate the fraudulent transfer of funds. Instead of traditional phishing techniques, this new hacking method employs creative emails to entice victims to respond in the desired manner.

Misconfiguration of knowledge databases, such as the lack of access controls, is the most common type of error that leads to data breaches. 

Data breaches at educational institutions can expose driver’s licenses or passport numbers, accounting information, social security numbers, or bank routing numbers. For example, A third-party vulnerability leaked sensitive information about University of California employees and students in December 2020. Malicious actors gained access to the Accellion file transfer application used by university staff. Much information about employees, dependents, beneficiaries, retirees, and university program participants was leaked.

  • Governmental agencies:


The public administration sector is second to the healthcare sector when it comes to insider cyber threats. Their data is being stolen for financial gain, espionage, or strategic information. 34% of their breaches are caused by privilege misuse and miscellaneous errors.

The number of data breaches in the government sector is not surprising, given that they store vast amounts of information about their citizens and employees.

After all, the government is the largest employer in most developed countries. Nearly half of the breaches were discovered months or years after the initial compromise is even more concerning.

Other state-affiliated groups and organized crime syndicates typically carry out espionage-related breaches, employing a variety of attack vectors, including;

  • Phishing attempts
  • Malware programs frequently use Backdoors to download additional malware modules to aid in executing a more powerful attack.
  • Other types of malware: keyloggers and password dumpers are used to steal user credentials.
  • Healthcare sector

The healthcare sector is an information-intensive industry that is a frequent target of cyber attacks and insider breaches due to its stores of a large amount of data.

Healthcare and medical sectors access and store healthcare records containing a large amount of personal information and financial details. 

Healthcare organizations have experienced the highest number of data breaches since 2009. Financial gain is a significant motivator for malicious insiders to breach healthcare institutions. Stolen medical records can gain unauthorized access to medical programs or obtain prescription medications.

Over the last 11 years (2010–2021), the healthcare industry has paid the highest average data breach cost compared to other sectors. According to the Ponemon Institute’s 2021 Cost of a Data Breach Report, the average cost of a breach in the healthcare industry in 2021 was $9.23 million.

Human error was one of the most common causes of leaks in the healthcare industry in 2020, while malicious intent was no longer among the top three causes of data breaches. According to the Verizon 2021 Data Breach Investigation Report, the most common human error was misdelivery.

Another cause of sensitive data breaches in the healthcare industry was third-party vulnerabilities. For example, an incident occurred due to a vendor’s security flaws while working with Florida Healthy Kids Corporation.

This HIPAA-compliant entity reported the exposure of 3.5 million people’s personal information in January 2021. For several years, hackers had access to this secure health information. Using the Corporation’s breached health plans, attackers stole consumers’ financial information, social security numbers, and sensitive data.

As stated above, all industries are now at risk of internal data breaches. It can occur in any type of organization and anytime. It can be through a malicious staff member or due to carelessness or human error. It can also be due to cyber hackers and ransomware attacks. 

For that purpose, it’s important to know what kind of sectors are more vulnerable to cyber threats, what are the types of malicious attacks and what can be done to protect your organization and data. 


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