What is data exfiltration?

Data exfiltration is the unauthorized removal of data from computer systems or other devices. Data exfiltration may result from either malicious or accidental acts, but it results from a lack of proper data security in either case. Here’s what you need to know about data theft, and what you can do to protect the information stored by your organization.

Common data exfiltration targets

While it’s important for all organizations to develop a data security strategy, some businesses handle more sensitive data than others and have a greater risk of data breach as a result. Additionally, many organizations face a greater number of regulations based on their given industries, further showcasing the importance of proper data protection.

Financial services

Banks, credit card companies, and other institutions in the financial services industry are targeted by cyberattacks at 300 times the rate of any other industry. Due to the nature of the industry, companies within financial services keep and process sensitive records like account information, Social Security numbers, and other data which can be harvested and sold. Unfortunately, many cybercriminals can even use hidden-tunnel techniques to disguise web traffic as legitimate to avoid detection.

Healthcare services

Like the financial services industry, the healthcare industry handles a large amount of sensitive information, albeit in the form of protected health information (PHI). In addition to standard identity theft concerns, personal health information can be used to improperly access prescriptions and other medical services. Information can also be used to file false insurance claims or even to extort victims using the threat of information release. Even more troubling is the fact that 94 percent of healthcare companies have reported a breach within the last two years, and nearly half have seen five or more.

Government services

Government agencies present an attractive target to hackers as well. This is evidenced by the Office of Personnel Management breach that exposed sensitive information for at least 22.1 million people in 2014-15, including government employees, contractors, and family and friends connected to these individuals. Given that the act was purportedly state-sponsored by a foreign country, as well as the fact the information collected was highly detailed, the breach represented a national security and counterintelligence risk.

Preventing data exfiltration in your organization

Data loss prevention strategies should be a key part of your organizational security strategy. This is even more imperative given the fact that third-party data breaches are only getting worse. But how can you prevent something so prevalent? While there will always be operational risk when doing business, there are several key strategies that your organization can employ to reduce your risk of data exfiltration.

Understand the data held by your organization

By 2025, some estimates expect data production across the globe to reach 180 zettabytes, which is equivalent to one billion terabytes or one trillion gigabytes of information. The amount of data stored on your organization’s systems is massive, and you may not even know it. This makes effective data discovery a crucial first step in your data security plan. Before it can be protected, data must be located.

Properly classify data in your possession

Once you’ve uncovered all of your company data in the discovery process, the next step is proper data classification. Given the sheer amount of data you’ve likely uncovered, automated classification is the best way to ensure your sensitive data is accounted for and updated in near real time. When combined with a Zero Trust framework, risks of data exfiltration are mitigated significantly.

Perform regular security audits of your data

Ongoing data risk assessments according to the needs of your business are crucial for spotting security threats before they can be exploited. By discovering, assessing, and acting, your organization can mitigate risk and prevent threats that have the potential to disrupt business operations. Your team will also be better prepared to respond to a data breach should one occur.

Develop a company culture that values organizational security

Data security management is the responsibility of all employees in your organization. While your chief information security officer, IT directors, and other members of your leadership team will likely be leading security initiatives and making policy decisions, your entire team will need to understand their roles in the overall data security picture. This is even more important with the increased prevalence of company policies like remote work.

See how Spirion can help protect your organization from data exfiltration

While data exfiltration represents an ever present challenge for your company, having experts in your corner can reduce your risk. With technology like Spirion’s Sensitive Data Watcher, you can monitor the information on your systems to determine who is accessing your information and can help detect abnormal behavior. With easy to understand reporting and key insights, you’ll be better able to focus protection where it’s needed most.

For more information on the Sensitive Data Watcher or other Spirion products like the Governance Suite, our team is standing by to assist you. You can contact us for further discussion or schedule a demo to see our products in action.