Data exfiltration, also known as data theft or data leakage, is a severe cybersecurity threat that can result in the unauthorized extraction and transfer of sensitive information from an organization’s network to external sources. This malicious activity can have devastating consequences, including financial loss, reputational damage, and legal repercussions.
Data exfiltration is defined as when an authorized person extracts data from the secured systems where it belongs, and either shares it with unauthorized third parties or moves it to insecure systems. Authorized persons include employees, system administrators, and trusted users. Data exfiltration can occur due to the actions of malicious or compromised actors, or accidentally.
Data exfiltration definition by Google Cloud
Exfiltrated data is typically used for various nefarious purposes, including extortion, identity theft, selling on the dark web, or espionage. According to Verizon’s Data Breach Investigation Report, External actors are responsible for 83% of breaches, while Internal ones account for 19%, and Financial motives still drive the vast majority of breaches.
During the first quarter of 2023, more than 6 Million data records were exposed worldwide through data breaches.
Any information stored by an organization could be a potential target for data thieves. For example:
Malware and Trojans: Cybercriminals often use malicious software (malware) and Trojans to infiltrate a network and covertly exfiltrate data. These programs can exploit vulnerabilities, install keyloggers, or create backdoors for unauthorized access.
Phishing Attacks: Phishing attacks often serve as an entry point for data exfiltration. Cybercriminals use deceptive emails, websites, or social engineering to trick employees into revealing login credentials or downloading malicious attachments.
Data Hiding Techniques: Attackers may employ various data-hiding techniques, such as steganography, to conceal stolen data within seemingly innocuous files or images. This makes it harder to detect the exfiltration.
Unauthorized Devices and Shadow IT: Insiders or external actors might use unauthorized devices like USB drives or personal cloud storage to steal and transfer data outside the organization’s network. Shadow IT, where employees use unapproved applications or services, can also facilitate data exfiltration.
Data exfiltration has a wide range of consequences. Here are some:
Data breaches and exfiltration incidents can lead to massive financial losses. According to a report by IBM Security, the average cost of a data breach in 2023 was approximately $ 4.45 million.
A study by Comparitech found that after 1 year, the Share price of breached companies fell -8.6% on average, and underperformed the NASDAQ by -8.6%.
Non-compliance with data protection regulations can result in hefty fines. For example, GDPR fines can go up to €20 million or 4% of the company’s global annual revenue, whichever is higher.
A Ponemon Institute report revealed that 69% of organizations that experienced a data breach suffered a loss of customer trust, which can take years to rebuild.
A cyberattack or data breach can lead to significant downtime and operational disruption. A survey by Statista found that 38% of organizations worldwide experienced more than 24 hours of downtime due to a breach in 2020.
Preventing data exfiltration requires a multi-faceted approach that combines technology, employee awareness, and proactive monitoring.
Here are some essential steps to help you prevent data exfiltration:
Data exfiltration is a serious threat that can have drastic consequences for organizations. In order to protect sensitive data and maintain customers’ trust, businesses must adopt a proactive approach to cybersecurity. By combining advanced technology solutions with employee training and advanced security measures, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of data exfiltration and strengthen their overall cybersecurity posture.