Top 10 Security Breach Types in 2023 (with Real-World Examples)

In 2022, there were 1802 recorded security breaches, impacting a massive 422 million people—a 41% rise from the prior year.

In response to the rapid increase in security breaches, organizations must prioritize strengthening their protection against cyber threats. With hackers becoming increasingly skilled, businesses should understand various security breach types — and real-world examples — to avoid risks.

Want to know how you can protect your organizations from increasing security breaches? Here I'll share the most common security breach types and how to prevent them.

The 10 most common security breach types and how they work 

A security breach is the disclosure and compromise of confidential information, systems, networks, or physical assets. Here are the 10 most common types of security breaches:

1) Phishing attacks

Phishing attacks use deceptive tactics to compel users into sharing sensitive data, such as login credentials, credit card numbers, or personal details. Attackers send spam emails, instant messages, or websites that mimic legitimate organizations or individuals to deceive users into clicking on malicious links. 

Here's how a phishing attack works:

  1. The attacker sends out a spammy email or message that appears to come from a trusted source, such as a well-known company or bank.
  2. The phishing message creates a sense of urgency or fear, prompting the recipient to open the included links or share sensitive information immediately.
  3. The attacker gains access to their sensitive data once the victim enters their information or clicks the link. They can then use it for unauthorized account access, financial fraud, or identity theft.

To protect against phishing attacks, guide team members to avoid opening suspicious links or downloading attachments from unknown sources.

(Learn about spear phishing, a hyper-focused form of phishing.)

2) Malware attacks

Malware attacks are a type of security breach in which malware compromises the security and integrity of computer systems, networks, and data. Once installed on a system, the malware can cause data breaches, system crashes, or unauthorized access to sensitive information.

Here are some common types of malware attacks and what they do:

  • Viruses are self-replicating programs that attach themselves to files and spread from one system to another. They can cause damage by corrupting or deleting files, disrupting system functionality, and spreading across the network.
  • Worms exploit vulnerabilities in computer systems and use network connections to replicate and infect other machines. Worms can consume network bandwidth, slow down systems, and cause disruptions.
  • Trojans trick users into installing them by appearing as harmless applications or files. Once installed, Trojans can perform various malicious activities, such as stealing personal information, creating backdoors for remote access, or damaging data.
  • Ransomware encrypts files or locks the entire system, making them inaccessible to the user. The attacker then demands a ransom in cryptocurrency in exchange for the decryption key.

Malware attacks can spread via malicious email attachments, infected websites, software vulnerabilities, and compromised downloads. To protect against these attacks, you should apply security patches and be cautious when downloading files or clicking on links. 

3) Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)

A DDoS attack overwhelms a target system with excessive traffic making it inaccessible to legitimate users. Attackers do this by using a botnet to launch a large volume of requests or data packets simultaneously.

Here's how a DDoS attack works:

  1. The attacker floods the targeted system with a large volume of traffic or requests that exceed its capacity.
  2. The massive requests consume the system's bandwidth, memory or disk space.
  3. With the system's resources exhausted, it'll slow down, become unresponsive or crash.

By implementing firewalls and intrusion prevention systems (IPS), you can filter out malicious traffic and block requests from known attack sources.

4) Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) Attacks

Man in the middle is an active attack, where attackers position themselves between two parties, without the parties' knowledge, to gain access to sensitive information. These attacks can occur through the following methods:

  • Exploiting vulnerabilities in the network infrastructure.
  • Compromising routers or switches.
  • Using malware to gain control over devices. 

To protect against MitM attacks, you should use secure and encrypted communication channels, such as HTTPS for websites or VPNs for network connections. And updating enterprise software devices frequently can also help mitigate the risk of MitM attacks.

5) Social engineering

Hackers use social engineering techniques to manipulate and deceive people into revealing sensitive information or performing actions that affect security. The basic idea behind social engineering is to trick individuals into:

  • Willingly providing confidential information.
  • Granting unauthorized access to systems or data. 

Unlike other hacking methods, social engineering targets human psychology to exploit trust, curiosity and other human traits. Social engineering attacks don't rely solely on technology, they involve physically gaining access to restricted areas or information. Hackers can do this by impersonating someone trusted, such as a coworker, to manipulate their targets.

Protecting against social engineering attacks requires awareness, education and robust security practices. You should remain vigilant and skeptical of unsolicited requests for sensitive information. Organizations should implement strong access controls and employee training programs to mitigate the risks associated with social engineering attacks.

(Cyber threat intelligence helps you recognize common attacks before they happen.)

6) Insider threats

Insider threats are security breaches caused by individuals who have authorized access to an organization's systems, networks or data but misuse that access for malicious purposes. These individuals can be current or former employees, contractors, or business partners. 

The breach occurs when an individual intentionally or unintentionally abuses their privileges, resulting in data theft, leaks or system disruption. Here are some common forms of insider threats:

  • Data theft
  • Sabotage
  • Unauthorized access
  • Fraud

Insider threats are harmful because insiders often possess knowledge of an organization's security practices, vulnerabilities and sensitive information. So they can evade detection and bypass security controls more quickly than external attackers. 

7) Password attacks

Password attacks involve unauthorized access to user accounts by exploiting weak passwords or vulnerabilities in password security mechanisms. Attackers may use various techniques to access user accounts, such as: 

8) Cross-site scripting (XSS)

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) is a type of security vulnerability that occurs when an attacker injects malicious scripts into a trusted website or web application. The malicious scripts are then executed on the victim's browser, allowing the attacker to steal sensitive information or manipulate the data displayed on the compromised website.

Here's how you can protect against XSS attacks and mitigate their potential harm:

  • Implement strict input validation mechanisms to sanitize user-supplied data and prevent the execution of malicious scripts.
  • Implement a CSP that defines the trusted sources of content for a website.
  • Avoid dynamic execution of user-supplied data as scripts.
  • Conduct security audits to identify and address XSS vulnerabilities in web applications.
  • Educate users about the risks of XSS attacks.

9) Advanced persistent threats (APTs)

APT attacks are a prolonged and stealthy infiltration of a target's network to gain unauthorized access, gather sensitive information or conduct espionage

Unlike typical cyberattacks that aim for immediate results, once attackers gain unauthorized access, they remain undetected for an extended period (weeks, months, or even years).

Once inside the targeted network, APTs compromise multiple systems and create backdoors for future access. They employ command-and-control (C2) infrastructure to control these systems and manipulate the target environment remotely. APTs focus on high-value targets, such as government agencies, critical infrastructure, defense organizations, and financial institutions.

Mitigating APTs require a multi-layered security implementation that includes the following:

10) Eavesdropping attack

An eavesdropping attack refers to bad actors monitoring communication between two parties without their knowledge or consent. Unlike MiTM attacks, eavesdropping attacks are passive and observant activities. The attackers are not directly positioned between the two parties.

Here's how eavesdropping attacks work:

  1. The attacker uses unsecured or improperly secured communication channels, such as unencrypted websites (HTTP instead of HTTPS) or compromised network infrastructure.
  2. The attacker intercepts the data packets transmitted between the two parties by deploying packet-sniffing tools.
  3. They then analyze the intercepted data to extract valuable information.

These attacks harm businesses and governments by compromising confidentiality, integrity and trust. The consequences can range from financial losses, identity theft and legal liabilities to reputational damage and operational disruptions.

5 Critical Examples of Security Breaches

Now let’s look at some real world examples of security breaches with significant impact. 

1) Facebook: Data breach of 50 million users 

In 2018, Facebook encountered a security breach that resulted from internal software flaws. The attackers targeted the network and successfully hacked the data of approximately 50 million users.

The breach occurred due to vulnerabilities in Facebook's code, through which attackers exploited certain features and gained unauthorized access to 50 million user accounts

2) Avast: Attack on an employee's account

In 2019, Avast reported that attackers accessed its internal network by exploiting a temporary VPN account with a username and password. This account was left open and didn't have a 2FA, making it easy to access Avast's computers. 

Microsoft discovered the attack when a security tool alerted the company about the "malicious replication of directory services from an internal IP."

3) Marriott: Data breach to steal data of 500 million customers

Marriott detected a breach in the network of an undisclosed hotel chain in mid-January 2020. Hackers gained access to guest information by obtaining login credentials from two Marriott employees. Discovered in late February 2020, the breach may have compromised personal details such as names, birthdates, phone numbers, language preferences, and loyalty account numbers.

4) JBS: Phishing attack to deploy ransomware

The world's biggest meat processor, JBS, paid hackers $11 million in Bitcoin as a ransom. This phishing attack led to the temporary shutdown of JBS' beef plants in the US. It caused disruptions in poultry and pork plant operations. 

The company's owner stated that they chose to pay the ransom to protect their data and reduce risks for their customers. But at the time of payment, most of the company's facilities had already returned to normal operations.

5) Twitter: Data theft of 235 million user accounts

In July, hackers sold 5.4 million Twitter account details, including usernames, emails, and phone numbers, revealing the first exploitation of the flaw. Twitter discovered this data theft vulnerability in January 2022 through its bug report reward program. A code update seven months prior introduced this vulnerability. 

Summing up the security breach types 

Each security breach type presents unique challenges and risks, from phishing attacks to social engineering vulnerabilities. By staying informed about the latest security trends and implementing robust security measures, you can enhance your defense against cybercriminals and safeguard sensitive information. 

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Laiba Siddiqui
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Laiba Siddiqui

Laiba Siddiqui is a technical writer who specializes in writing for SaaS companies. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and at contentbylaibams@gmail.com.