How To Prevent Data Interception and Theft

The increasing number of data interceptions and thefts pose significant risks to individuals and businesses. The consequences of gaining access to sensitive data by a cybercriminal can be devastating, leading to financial loss, reputational damage, and privacy breaches.

While data theft can be caused by both external and internal factors, organisations need to strategise their cyber security to prevent data breaches.

According to the UK Cyber Breach Survey, 50% of businesses have experienced some form of cyber security breach or data leak in 2023, as compared to 32% in 2022. Notably, medium businesses (70%) and large businesses (74%) have reported significantly higher rates of data breaches.

Phishing is the most common type of attack, reported by a staggering 84% of businesses. The majority of companies face impersonation of organisations in emails or online (35%), followed by viruses or malware (17%).

This blog post will provide comprehensive insights into preventing data theft, and ensure that your financial data, bank details, personal information, and confidential records remain secure.

What is Data Interception and Theft?

Data interception and theft is a method of unauthorised access and capture of sensitive data during its transmission over a network or the internet.  

This process is carried out using software known as a packet sniffer, which analyses data packets and sends the collected information back to the hacker or a cyber-criminal.

There is a difference between data interception and data theft. Data interception involves capturing data as it is transmitted over networks, while data theft refers to stealing data stored on devices or databases.

Both can lead to severe consequences, including financial loss, physical theft, identity theft, and reputational damage.

Common Methods of Data Interception and Theft

Malicious actors employ various techniques to intercept and steal data, including:

  • Man in the Middle (MITM) Attacks: Intercepting communication between two parties to obtain personal information.

  • Phishing Attacks: Deceptive emails or messages tricking individuals into revealing login details and other sensitive data.

  • SQL Injection: Exploiting vulnerabilities to access databases.

  • Brute Force Attacks: Attempting multiple password combinations to gain unauthorised access to accounts.

  • Social Engineering Attacks: Manipulating individuals into disclosing confidential information.

  • Malicious Software: Using malware, such as keyloggers and packet sniffers, to monitor and steal private data.

Recent Example of Data Theft in the UK

Attack on NHS Hospitals in London

On 20th June 2024, a Russian criminal group called Qilin hacked into NHS systems and stole susceptible medical records of patient data, including patient names, dates of birth, NHS numbers, and blood test descriptions.

The group has posted almost 400GB of data following a hack of Synnovis, a joint venture between a private company and the NHS that offers pathology services including blood tests and transfusions. The ransomware attack has affected seven hospitals in the UK operated by the Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College London NHS trusts.

Cybersecurity expert Ciaran Martin stated in an interview with the BBC that the recent cyber-attack in the UK is among the most significant and harmful.

A screenshot from Qilin’s darknet leak site shows information about Synnovis.

screenshot of Qilin’s darknet leak site

Credit: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/articles/c9ww90j9dj8o

In response, Synnovis acknowledged the concern this breach may cause and assured that they are taking it very seriously. They are already in the process of analysing the leaked data.

The ransomware hackers breached the company's computer system, which provides services to two NHS trusts in London, and encrypted critical information, rendering the IT systems unusable.

Ransomware expert Brett Callow from Emsisoft mentioned that “healthcare organisations are increasingly targeted as hackers are aware of the potential harm they can cause and the significant payouts they may receive”.

How Can Data Interception and Theft Be Prevented?

Here are 10 effective ways in which you and your business can prevent data theft:

1. Encrypting Data

Data encryption is a crucial measure to prevent data interception and theft. It involves converting sensitive data into unreadable code, ensuring that even if data thieves gain access, they cannot decrypt the information.

Full Disk Encryption: This method encrypts all the data on a hard drive, making it unreadable without the correct decryption key. Especially, it is useful for protecting data on lost or stolen devices. For example, BitLocker for Windows and FileVault for Mac are popular disk encryption tools.

Encrypting Sensitive Data: It's vital to encrypt sensitive data, such as financial information and transactions, personal emails, and sensitive information. Tools like PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) can encrypt files and emails, ensuring that sensitive data remains secure during transmission and storage.

2. Implementing Strong Password Protection

To prevent data theft, it is crucial to implement strong passwords. Employees should use complex combinations of letters, numbers, and special characters to create secure passwords.

Avoid Weak Passwords: Employees should avoid easily guessable passwords, like "password123" or their birthdate, which is a major risk. Instead, you should always create passwords with at least 12 characters and include a mix of uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.

Regularly Update Passwords: As we know, changing passwords periodically reduces the risk of interception and theft. Employees should consider updating passwords every three to six months and immediately if they suspect a breach.

Avoid Using the Same Password: Employees should avoid reusing passwords across multiple accounts, as it makes them vulnerable to data breaches. A password manager can help you generate and store unique passwords for different accounts.

3. Enabling Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is essential for adding an extra layer of data protection. It requires a second form of verification, such as a text message code, an authentication app code, or a biometric scan, in addition to your password.

This means that even if a malicious actor obtains your password, they still require verification to gain personal information.

4. Securing Personal Devices

Personal devices are often targets for data theft. Businesses should ensure that devices are secure by:

Installing Security Software: The use of comprehensive security software, including antivirus and anti-malware programmes is essential to protect against malicious code and software. Employees should regularly scan their computer systems and external devices to help identify and remove threats before they can cause harm.

Enabling Full Disk Encryption: Businesses should protect the data stored on devices with full disk encryption. This ensures that even if the device is lost or stolen, the data remains secure.

Regularly Updating Software: Organisations should keep the operating system, applications, and software up to date to patch system vulnerabilities. Automatic updates can help ensure you’re always protected against the latest threats.

5. Protecting Network Security

Businesses should secure their network to prevent data interception during transmission.

Using Secure Connections: Organisations should ensure the Wi-Fi network is encrypted with WPA3, the latest security protocol. WPA3 provides enhanced protection against eavesdropping and brute force attacks.

Avoiding Public Wi-Fi: Public networks are often insecure and susceptible to MitM attacks. If you want to access public Wi-Fi, use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to encrypt your internet traffic and protect your data from interception.

Monitoring Network Activity: Businesses should regularly monitor for unusual activity which may indicate a privacy breach. Implementing network monitoring tools will alert you to potential threats in real time, enabling a swift response to access attempts.

6. Protecting Against Social Engineering Attacks

Businesses should be vigilant against human error and social engineering tactics that manipulate individuals or staff into revealing sensitive information.

Educating Employees: It is crucial to conduct security awareness training on recognising phishing attempts and other forms of attacks regularly. The training programme should consist of real-life scenarios to help employees understand the risks and how to respond appropriately.

Verifying Requests: Employees should always verify the identity of individuals requesting confidential information, especially if the request seems unusual. They should use known contact information to confirm the request’s legitimacy rather than relying on the provided contact details.

7. Regularly Backing Up Data

Regular data backups ensure your business can protect data and recover information in case of a data breach or loss.

For data protection, you should store backups in a secure, offsite location or consider using cloud-based backup solutions that offer encryption and redundancy.

8. Implementing Security Measures for Online Services

Services like banking and email require robust security measures to prevent unauthorised access.

Strong Password Protection: Employees should use strong, unique passwords for each online account, and consider using a password manager to keep track of them.

Enabling MFA: Businesses should activate multi-factor authentication wherever possible to add an extra layer of data protection for accounts.

Monitoring Account Activity: Employees should regularly check for suspicious activity in their online bank accounts too. Many services offer alerts for unusual login attempts, helping you quickly respond to potential data breaches.

9. Addressing System Vulnerabilities

To avoid data theft, businesses should regularly assess and address the vulnerabilities in the system.

Conducting Security Audits: The IT security team should perform regular security audits to identify and rectify potential weaknesses. This includes reviewing access controls, patch management practices, and updating security policies.

Updating Software and Firmware: The IT team should ensure that all the software and firmware are up to date to protect against known vulnerabilities. This includes not only operating systems and applications, but also software code firmware updates for devices such as routers and IoT devices.

10. Using Security Software

The use of security software plays a crucial role in preventing data theft.

Antivirus Programmes: Staff should protect their computer systems from malicious software. IT teams should regularly update your antivirus software to ensure it can detect and remove the latest threats.

Firewalls: Businesses should monitor and control incoming and outgoing network traffic to block unauthorised access. Configuring firewalls properly can help prevent unauthorised access to your network and systems.

Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS): The IT security team should detect and respond to potential security breaches immediately. One of the proactive solutions is IDS, which monitors network traffic for suspicious activity and can alert you to potential insider threats, allowing for a swift response.

Summary

Preventing data breaches is critical in safeguarding sensitive information and maintaining trust.

You can significantly avoid the risk of data theft by implementing strong password protection, enabling two-factor authentication, encrypting data, updating security software, training employees, monitoring network traffic, and securing personal devices.

Aztech is committed to helping businesses protect their data with advanced solutions and expert support. For more information on preventing data interception and theft, please schedule a call with our experts.

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