Information Leakage

What is Information Leakage?

As security teams work to protect their organization’s digital assets and infrastructure from cyberattacks, one of their most important goals is to reduce the risk and mitigate the impact of information leakage. 

Information leakage takes place when any of an organization’s sensitive, confidential, restricted, or proprietary information is revealed to unauthorized persons. Information leakage can be the result of cybercriminals exploiting an improperly configured server or application, or it may result from a social engineering attack that targets an employee and tricks them into sharing secret information or disclosing access credentials for a secured system.

Depending on the nature of the leaked information, cybercriminals may use it to commit fraud or identity theft, steal financial resources, or gain access to other restricted systems. Leaked information can even be sold on the black market, including in the illicit marketplaces of the deep and dark web.

How Do Information Leakage Attacks Work?

The common characteristic of information leakage attacks is that their goal is to compromise sensitive data that is owned by the target organization. Beyond that, information leakage attacks can take on many forms and leverage a variety of digital attack vectors.

In some cases, information leakage happens by accident. Employees may accidentally share confidential information with a friend or family member, or they may mistakenly send sensitive information to the wrong recipient.

In other cases, information leaks are intentionally orchestrated from either inside or outside the organization. You could have an employee stealing company information, hackers intercepting information shared by employees using non-secure tools, or cybercriminals targeting employees with phishing, spear phishing, business email impersonation, domain spoofing, and other digital attacks that aim to trick the victim into disclosing sensitive information.

While the motivations behind information leakage attacks are fairly uniform, the diverse nature of these attacks makes them especially challenging for cybersecurity teams to detect and prevent.

Which Data Assets are Targeted by Information Leakage Attacks?

Information leakage attacks are designed to target the most valuable data and information possessed by the target organization. These include things like:

  • Personally Identifying Information (PII) – Records or information that can be used to identify or locate a person, including names, addresses, birthdays, phone numbers, social security numbers. PII may be used to commit identity theft, fraudulently obtain credit, or in other types of scams.
  • Financial & Tax Information – An organization’s financial and tax information includes credit card numbers, bank records, invoices, receipts, tax returns, and more. The information could be used by cybercriminals to create fake invoices or make fraudulent credit purchases.
  • Access Credentials – Information leakages may expose access credentials for restricted systems that contain more sensitive information for cybercriminals to steal.
  • Medical Information – Medical data includes details about the mental and physical condition of a patient. Cybercriminals can use leaked medical information to commit fraud or blackmail the patient.
  • IP, Trade Secrets, and Proprietary Knowledge – Cybercriminals love to steal intellectual property, trade secrets, and proprietary knowledge from the world’s most innovative companies. This information can be used to reverse-engineer the target organization’s products and technology before selling them on to the highest bidder.

What are the Consequences of Information Leakage?

Information attacks can have crushing consequences for the targeted organizations, including financial and revenue losses, damaged reputation, operational downtime, and litigation exposure.

Financial and Revenue Losses

Information leakage can enable cybercriminals to steal money from the target organization or access credit in the organization’s name. In some cases, this results in substantial and irreversible financial losses.

Damage to Reputation and Brand Value

Large-scale leaks of customer information can do significant damage to a brand’s overall reputation and value in the marketplace. 

Operational Downtime

In an information leakage event where cybercriminals gain full access to a restricted network, the target organization may have to shut down its network to restore data and operations and ensure that the intruders are removed. This results in lost uptime (another cause of lost revenue) and negatively impacts the customer experience.

Individuals whose personal data are exposed in an information leak may have grounds for legal action against the target organization. In other cases, failure to secure sensitive data can result in regulatory fines and penalties of thousands or even millions of dollars.

How Do I Stop Information Leakage?

Monitor Threats Across Digital Channels

Monitoring social media, internal collaboration platforms, company email servers, and other digital channels can help provide early detection of suspicious employee behavior and digital threats like malware distribution, phishing, and impersonation attacks.

Automate Digital Surveillance with Artificial Intelligence

Today’s leading cybersecurity tools are using artificial intelligence to automate and scale the collection, processing, and alerting of digital threat data from throughout the public attack surface. 

Continuously Assess Vulnerabilities

Cybersecurity teams should work to proactively identify vulnerable IT and cloud assets, and remediate those vulnerabilities before they can be exploited by cybercriminals in an information leakage attack.

How Does ZeroFOX Help With Information Leakage?

ZeroFOX provides enterprises protection, intelligence, and disruption to detect and prevent information leakage attacks before they target your employees, steal your sensitive information, and damage the value of your brand.

Download our white paper to discover four strategies for remote-first security that can help safeguard your organization against information leakage.