Anatomy of a Data Breach

Arguably no phrase has dominated the tech world over the last 24 months more than the term “data breach.” From breaches impacting critical infrastructure like the Colonial Pipeline, which provides most of the country’s fuel, to hackers compromising healthcare records of half a million people at UC San Diego Health, the headlines of last two years have been full of cybersecurity mishaps. Yet, despite this breach-centric news cycle, many individuals may not know what exactly a data breach is, how they typically start, and why they occur.

What is a data breach?

While it may seem like a complex concept, once the jargon is removed, a data breach is very straightforward. According to Trend Micro, a data breach is “an incident where information is stolen or taken from a system without the knowledge or authorization of the system’s owner.” And while data breaches can be the result of a system or human error, a vast majority of data breaches are the result of cyberattacks, where a cybercriminal gains unlawful access to sensitive system data. In fact, 92% of the data breaches in Q1 2022 were the result of cyberattacks.

What kind of data can be breached?

Unfortunately, cyber criminals look to get their hands on any available information, ranging from more obvious sensitive information such as social security numbers and credit card information to more obscure data like past purchase history.

How do data breaches happen?

Cybercrime is getting more sophisticated each day. However, cyberattack tactics do not have to be cutting-edge or advanced in order to be effective. Here are a few examples of popular tactics used by cybercriminals:

  • Phishing: Phishing is when a cybercriminal pretends to be a legitimate party in hopes of tricking an individual into giving them access to personal information. Phishing is one of the oldest tricks in the book for cybercriminals but it is just as effective as ever. For example, 80% of security incidents and 90% of data breaches stem from phishing attempts.
  • Malware: Another tried-and-true method for cybercriminals is malware. Malware is malicious software that secretly installs itself on devices – often by way of a user engaging with fake links and content – and quietly gains access to the data on an individual’s device or business network.
  • Password Attack: Through password attacks, cybercriminals look to gain access to sensitive data and networks by way of “cracking” user passwords and using these credentials to get into networks and extract data.

How do I spot a possible breach?

The best way to stop a data breach is to stop it before it even starts. This includes taking steps like making sure passwords are long and complex and reporting suspicious emails. If you do suspect that you have been the victim of a breach, immediately contact Clark’s ITS Help Desk (, 508-793-7745) and follow advice to help scan, detect, and remediate any issues.

If you are interested in learning more, or ever have questions about how to keep yourself or those you care about safe and secure through the digital landscape, feel free to contact or stop by the ITS Help Desk. We would love to chat!