Hackers prey upon companies in order to steal sensitive data for sale on the open market. Hackers target sensitive information like credit card data, Social Security numbers, client lists or any other sensitive material which can harm a company’s reputation and should be kept confidential.
Malicious actors frequently employ malware to unauthorizedly transfer data. A careless employee could also expose company information to cybercriminals by downloading it onto an insecure device like an external drive or their personal smartphone.
What Is Data Exfiltration?
Data exfiltration–often known as data theft or exportation–refers to the unauthorized transfer of sensitive information out of a network using malware and malicious actors, typically hackers and cybercriminals who gain entry through compromised endpoints into corporate networks and steal user credentials, intellectual property and company secrets from within it.
Attackers typically wait until they’ve gained entry to an organization’s network before exfiltrating data from it, as this allows them to remain undetected for extended periods while hunting down information of value. Once they find what they’re after, attackers use sophisticated attack methods to extract it without detection and quickly leave.
Employees can unwittingly access sensitive workplace files on personal devices through accessing confidential files or documents and saving them to an unsecured external device – be it their email account, cloud storage service account, printer or keyboard shortcuts – that lacks adequate protection. Therefore, organizations must educate employees on best practices as well as establish a Bring Your Own Device policy with multi-factor authentication to keep this from happening.
Once outside attackers gain access to an organization’s proprietary data, they could sell or use it against it against customers or partners of that business, as well as making public disclosures of it. As a result, this type of breach can undermine consumer trust, damage a company’s reputation and cause financial losses for itself and other victims.
Danger of Data Exfiltration
Data exfiltration poses a grave threat to organizations when left undetected, particularly if left undetected. A successful attack enables attackers to steal customer information, financial details and company secrets that they then sell or release publicly to increase profits.
Data exfiltration from compromised systems can take many forms, from malware attacks and careless employee actions, to outright theft by criminals or hackers. Malware infiltrates computers and mobile devices connected to corporate networks before collecting user credentials, intellectual property and trade secrets which is then sent off to be sold or published for profit by its cyberattacker masterminds.
Careless insiders pose another significant threat to data security by downloading files from secure company locations to non-secure personal devices like smartphones and external drives, where they are more vulnerable to cyberattacks. These files can include photos of monitor screens, recordings of conversations, or entire databases – files which could then easily be moved onto servers outside the organization’s control where their protection can be reduced further.
To prevent data exfiltration, it is crucial to classify and tag data based on its importance and sensitivity. This will allow you to implement policies which prevent unauthorized access to high-risk information and send it only after receiving permission from its recipient. It is also essential that unauthorized communication channels used by malware attacks escape your organization’s network and block any access that might facilitate their dissemination of sensitive data outside.
What Causes Data Exfiltration?
Malicious attack actors employ various means to siphon data. Some forms of malware remain undetected for extended periods while searching a network for important files they can upload onto remote servers later.
Unauthorized data exfiltration is a key tactic used by cybercriminals against enterprises. They might take confidential company data and email it outward, or copy sensitive files onto nonsecure devices like laptops, smartphones, external drives or cameras.
An unhappy employee could initiate data exfiltration by deliberately taking steps to discredit their employer or find work elsewhere, by intentionally taking information away or by unwittingly using personal devices in the workplace or neglecting basic cybersecurity measures. Even regular users could potentially expose sensitive company data due to improper usage or neglecting basic cybersecurity protocols.
Preventing exfiltration requires taking an integrated approach to security. This includes conducting both internal and external threat assessments, creating an insider threat program, providing employee cybersecurity education, as well as installing preventive technologies that detect suspicious behavior and report abnormal activities back to IT security teams for analysis – such as blocking phishing attempts or stopping attackers from sending POST requests without authorization directly into web servers they’ve never communicated with before.
Types of Exfiltrated Data
Cybercriminals often target sensitive data for sale on the dark web. Exfiltrated information often includes credit card data, login credentials, client lists and trade secrets – highly valued forms of exfiltrated material that attackers often threaten to sell or release in exchange for payment. Cyberattackers sometimes even hold firms ransom by threatening to release this data without payment being made immediately.
Outsider attacks typically begin by injecting malware onto one device in your network – like a computer or mobile phone – which then spreads across other devices in search of valuable information to exfiltrate. Sometimes these strands of malware lie dormant for days or months to avoid detection by security systems until they’re ready to exfiltrate what they’ve gathered.
Careless insiders are another major source of data exfiltration. They may transfer files from secure corporate systems onto unmonitored personal devices like laptops and mobile phones without anyone monitoring them, using cloud services, external drives or cameras to capture data they plan to exfiltrate, before sending the files from those devices directly out of your organization to servers outside it. Since their activity closely resembles normal network activity, such activities often go undetected for long periods – this makes intrusion detection systems all the more vital in monitoring network traffic for early detection of anomalous activity.
Data Exfiltration vs. Data Leakage
Cyberattacks cost companies billions each year and data exfiltration stands out as something distinct from mere “leakage.” Cybercriminals target data exfiltration specifically with an aim of taking sensitive information that they can sell or publicize in exchange for profit. Removing company data requires more than the intervention of outsiders; hackers often employ techniques like phishing emails, malware attacks, reused or weak passwords and fraudulent websites in order to gain entry to company networks. Cloud technologies that facilitate remote working arrangements also pose serious threats. McAfee 2022 report highlighted that 71% of cybersecurity professionals are concerned about employees sending confidential files outside of work email accounts, saving important files on personal devices or in untrusted file-sharing services and using public Wi-Fi connections for company work accessing files.
Unauthorized transfers of information can cause serious harm to a company’s reputation, customer trust and intellectual property or national security – as well as financial loss, missed business opportunities and irreparable organizational image damage. Thankfully, the best way to prevent data exfiltration is with vigilant user activity monitoring and vigilant awareness; robust detection systems must also be in place in order to keep up with sophisticated cyberattacks and keep data protected against exfiltration attempts. For more on safeguarding company data security check out our Data Protection 101 series.
How Does Data Exfiltration Occur?
Data exfiltration attacks may take many forms. They could involve physically accessing a device manually or remotely using malicious programming over the network to steal files from employee computers and devices. Whatever their method may be, all attacks require having access to one employee computer or another device in order to move files around and take control of them.
Hackers frequently target databases for exfiltration as they contain valuable information that is typically poorly protected. Hackers use various tools, including exploit kits and SQL injections, to gain entry to databases; once inside they use remote applications and external media devices to exfiltrate data from them.
Careless insider threats are another source of data exfiltration. Such incidents typically take place when an employee downloads sensitive company data onto personal devices like their smartphone, camera or external drive – potentially to be sent outside the organization either to third parties or an unsecured cloud storage service such as SaaS solutions.
Cybercriminals may use email as another method of exfiltrating data, sending out phishing emails that fool employees into divulging sensitive data or downloading malware attachments. Businesses should invest in security solutions that provide greater insight into user actions such as Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) tools in order to detect these attacks and avoid their damaging impact.
How to Detect Data Exfiltration?
As companies adapt to a more agile workforce, permitting employees to work how, when, and where they please has created new opportunities for data exfiltration. Enabling remote work, adopting more collaboration tools, and combatting resignation have increased both volume and risk of sensitive information leaving corporate networks.
Internal or insider threats account for over 40% of data exfiltration incidents. Careless or disgruntled employees may download company data onto personal devices like cloud storage, printers, file sharing sites and keyboard shortcuts that bypass security controls – often ending up on unsecure locations like Dark Web where it may be sold to competitors and customers alike.
Organizations need strong access control and visibility into data usage to detect suspicious activity, such as data exfiltration. To do this, organizations require access control systems with context into user activities and an early warning sign for potentially harmful behaviour such as phishing and credential theft. Furthermore, such a system should ensure only legitimate reasons and limited periods are granted privileged access; JIT PAM approaches are an ideal way of doing this.
How to Prevent Data Exfiltration?
Cyberattackers use malware to exfiltrate data from organizations. Individuals may also be targeted directly through phishing and social engineering attacks.
Insider threats are another key cause of data exfiltration, with employees misusing privileged access to move sensitive files around and bypass corporate security solutions and policies.
3 Common Data Exfiltration Techniques
Organizations must monitor incoming and outgoing network traffic to detect data exfiltration attempts in order to safeguard consumer trust, corporate valuation, and intellectual property from malicious attacks which threaten these vital areas of corporate survival.
Email remains a popular way for cybercriminals to steal sensitive data. Through phishing techniques, cybercriminals can send emails that trick recipients into downloading infected files or providing credentials – this type of social engineering attack often requires high degrees of sophistication as hackers will pose as employees or vendors when communicating.
Careless insider threats are another leading source of data exfiltration, downloading sensitive company information onto insecure devices that aren’t protected by their employer’s security solutions and policies, such as personal smartphones or cameras. This form of exfiltration often includes photos from monitor screens or recordings of conversations from those inside.
Hackers may also employ DNS tunneling, which involves transmitting human-readable data through encrypted DNS queries and responses, in order to exfiltrate data. This technique is particularly efficient because detection systems that rely on plain text protocol analysis often miss it entirely.
1. Social Engineering
Social engineering enables attackers to gain entry to company systems and extract sensitive data such as emails, credentials, intellectual property, customer data, payment card data or any other financial details that might exist therein. This could include emails, credentials, intellectual property and even payment card data – among other forms of attack.
Attackers use social engineering techniques to coerce employees into divulging sensitive data or opening attachments or clicking links that they should not. Social engineers might pose as coworkers requesting private project updates, or as the head of their organization; their goal is to create an urgency among employees so that they provide their personal details or click malicious links before it’s too late.
Not just limited to emails, social engineering can occur over the phone and through texting applications as well. If you suspect a suspicious text or caller, contact them directly before engaging. This is particularly crucial in business environments where threats often use colleagues’ names to gain entry to sensitive areas or information; or worse still tamper with employee phones in order to gain privileged access or download malware – attacks which often go undetected due to typical network activity resembling normal network traffic – leaving standard security solutions unprotected against.
2. Human Error
Data exfiltration, also known as data snooping or leakage, involves cybercriminals stealing or unauthorlty moving of information outside an organization for malicious, disruptive, or financial gain. Such actions often compromise intellectual property rights, customer database information and payment card details – leaving companies vulnerable against competition, disruption or financial gain.
Malware attacks are one of the primary sources of data exfiltration. They usually begin with malware being installed onto an endpoint connected to a network and designed to collect and transmit the collected data to a server controlled by its attacker, where it can then be sold or used for other purposes.
Social engineering is another common way for data to leave an organization, often through trickery by an adversary who poses as a trusted colleague or company leader and dupes employees into handing over sensitive information or login credentials, often by conning unsuspecting employees into handing it over by trickery. Employees could unwittingly download sensitive files onto insecure devices – such as their personal smartphone – that are then taken advantage of by threat actors and sent back via email, text message, or file attachment to them for theft and exfiltration.
3. Insider Threat Uploads to External Device
Insider threats often use many of the same tools used by malicious outsiders to gain entry to networks for data exfiltration purposes, often through malware injected onto network-connected devices like computers, phones and cloud apps. Once compromised devices are compromised by malware attacks, malware can search and search through files for data to download or exfiltrate – both outsider and insider threats can utilize such attacks effectively to breach networks and steal sensitive data.
Insider threats commonly use data exfiltration by copying files from trusted systems to devices that lack corporate security solutions or policies, such as flash drives, cameras or smartphones that don’t offer adequate monitoring solutions or policies. This method leaves sensitive data vulnerable to being accessed by unauthorised parties for financial gain.
Malicious insiders can use this tactic to steal company data for illicit reasons, such as revenge against their employer or selling it to cyber criminals. Negligent insiders, on the other hand, may not harbor any specific malicious intentions but could expose sensitive data if they misplace a storage device or fail to follow corporate security policies.
Cybercriminals use several techniques to gain access to your organization’s sensitive data, including data exfiltration. According to Techopedia, data exfiltration involves moving sensitive information out of a secure network without authorization into other untrusted or private devices such as email accounts, messaging services, USB drives, cameras, smartphones and other specialized devices such as email.
These techniques usually exploit vulnerabilities within a business’s systems to gain entry. Vishing, smishing and phishing attacks are popular ways for attackers to infiltrate company computers with malware that extracts data outside the environment and out of its environment – according to VB’s 2021 Cyber Insurance Report this accounted for more than 65% of cyber extortion incidents reported to the FBI.
Organizations looking to combat such threats should implement a people-centric security approach that provides employees with all of the tools they need to keep their data and information safe, such as education that promotes good password habits and fosters cybersecurity awareness. Furthermore, monitoring open ports may reveal any suspiciously high volumes of traffic which could indicate breaches.