How to Check for a Data Breach

An online data breach refers to the theft of private data due to an intrusion into internal systems. Anything on the digital realm that is hosting data for access is always under the risk of a hack. Millions and billions of dollars go into building defenses that fortify an organization against external threats.

How to Check for a Data Breach

But despite the colossal budget and effort that go into cybersecurity, there is always some security vulnerability that leaves an organization exposed. A Facebook data breach recently caused the data of 533 million users to be available on the internet.

What is a Data Breach and How Does it Occur?

Data is a precious asset. As users, we have much of our information stored online on various platforms; social media, banks, and forums. Data of customers aside, government and intelligence agencies have to protect secrets of national security. Geo-politics fuel animosity, and cyberwarfare is the playground where the greatest minds of respective countries try to put their skills to use behind computers. And half of the time, cyberwarfare is funded by governments themselves. It’s not just about offense; a country’s intelligence must be able to protect itself from emerging cyber threats.

A breach is anything that happens when an unauthorized person gets access, including an employee accessing another employee’s computer without authorization.

Hackers target an organization through technological means and by using humans, or sometimes both. When it comes to technology, it encompasses all such vulnerabilities that can allow an unauthorized person to gain access to a system. The said vulnerabilities may be zero-day vulnerabilities that the operating system/application manufacturer has not discovered. Hackers leverage these weaknesses to either gain unauthorized access or inject malware for long-term attacks.

But more often than not, the people with access to the data are the ones that become a target. Malicious actors use Phishing or Spear Phishing techniques to target many employees or one high-level employee, respectively. It could be a fabricated email with a malicious attachment or a link to a malicious website.

For example, the Stuxnet malware targeted contractors who were working for Iranian uranium enrichment facilities. The malware eventually ended up at one of the facilities where it finally got to function as programmed.

Malware is just one example of a breach. It could occur due to brute-forcing a weak password or simply by a misconfiguration on a web server.


What Gets Targeted in a Breach?

Private and confidential data are usually the targets of a data breach. It depends on the type of organization. A service like Uber would get hacked to steal users’ information like full name and credit card info. Websites like forums get hacked for user credentials that can be used for Credential Stuffing; because it’s likely that the same password will work on another platform like social media.

How Can I Tell if I Was a Victim of Data Breach?

Data obtained through a breach by hackers typically gets auctioned and sold on the Dark Web. The internet is notorious for such purposes, where hackers can find buyers for their work or even get hired for a data breach.

  • Announcements

Usually, companies notify their users of a data breach and urge them to change their passwords. It is important because data breaches often contain the login credentials of users. Hence, why we highly recommend setting up two-factor authentication on all of your accounts.

  • Unknown logins

Some services email you when a login has been made on an unknown browser, device, or location. You must immediately seek support from the service and recover your account if the hacker has changed the password.

  • Phishing

Phishing is the fraudulent technique of tricking users through urgency and by appearing to be legitimate. If you receive an email or a phone call asking you the other half of some information that is supposed to be private, your data might be in the wrong hands.

  • Online tool

A popular website named Have I Been Pwned allows users to check if they have been a part of an online breach. It does this by matching your email address against data available online on various hacker forums. With the most recent Facebook Data Breach 2021, the platform introduced phone numbers as a new way to search for results.

  • Password Manager:

A password manager is not just a tool for storing login information in a secure and encrypted vault; the best password managers monitor the Dark Web for stolen data, it alerts the users if any credential in the vault has been compromised. Setting up two-factor authentication and using a password manager will prove to be of tremendous help to you.


You don’t have to worry too much about the next data breach; what you can do is be prepared for it. As an IT administrator, you must always use strong passwords and keep systems updated with the latest security patch. The advice might seem redundant given how many organizations have an excellent IT infrastructure, it’s not always the case for small businesses like startups.

As a user, always enable two-factor authentication for every account, it will alert you when an unauthorized login attempt is made on your account.

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