Most Common Types of Data Breaches

A company that manages data must be always cautious against the potential of data breaches. There are several types of breaches, ranging from a simple human error to large-scale attacks by hostile actors, but any data exposure can have major ramifications for organisations. They are also quite prevalent, with 39% of UK businesses reporting a cyberattack in 2022.

Graham Coffey & Co. Solicitors’ data breach legal specialists will outline the ten most prevalent forms of data breaches that organisations should be aware of, and explain how to implement appropriate data management policies to reduce the chances of an incident.


Human Error

Human mistakes frequently result in data leaks. Human error can take numerous forms, such as an email with personal information forwarded to the incorrect addressee or physical documents left in public view. These sorts of incidents are prevalent, and while they normally do not result in significant breaches, risk mitigation is still necessary. Verify that data controllers understand their obligations for personal data protection, and teach any staff members whose roles require processing or accessing information about their responsibilities and the procedures you have in place.

Inadequate Security Measures

Many organisations are unaware that updating personal data without consent may constitute a data breach under certain conditions. There are several types of breaches that are not the result of hacking, but of a company’s failure to deploy sufficient data security procedures.

Businesses that are designated ‘data controllers’ under GDPR or the UK’s Data Protection Act 2018 must understand their responsibility to protect data, since failure to do so can have significant legal implications. For example, if you are responsible for a data breach that exposes the personal information of a client, customer or employee, they may be able to sue you for compensation. Talk with a data breach compensation lawyer for advice on whether you are at risk of a breach or not, and how to meet your legal obligations to limit your liability.

Password Guessing

In certain circumstances, relatively little hacking is required to gain access to confidential data. It may be as easy as guessing someone’s password or attempting the most popular versions (such as ‘Password123’) until you gain access.

Most online services have measures in place to discourage the use of these common passwords, but any logical combination of letters and digits can be guessed by a hacker or piece of software with enough time and persistence. Companies should encourage workers to utilise password generators to produce random strings of characters, or to generate passwords for employees that comply with data security best practices. Naturally, passwords should not be saved on computers, as hackers who gain entry into the system can find these passwords and use them to broaden their access.

Unsecure Networks

As remote working becomes increasingly popular, more company data is being kept on cloud-based servers. Cloud storage systems, unlike traditional data storage devices, can be accessed from anywhere on the globe. Employees who use unsecured networks (such as public Wi-Fi networks) to access data may inadvertently allow hackers into the system.

Companies should utilise cloud storage providers with high levels of security, and ensure that their networks have the necessary security measures in place for employees accessing data remotely — workers should avoid using public Wi-Fi if feasible.


Data kept on physical hard discs is significantly less likely to be unlawfully accessed through the internet, but this does not mean there is no risk. Physical discs can be stolen, and if the data is not backed up, the company could lose it permanently. This can make responding to a breach difficult, especially if the company cannot account for the documents and data it has lost.

The most straightforward approach to avoid this sort of leak is to prohibit employees from transmitting personal data on portable devices. Physical server theft is uncommon, but stealing an external hard drive or USB memory stick is significantly easier. Employ password security on portable devices wherever feasible and limit their use — it is generally safer to send files via secure cloud-based services, even given the risks we have already acknowledged.


Many technologically sophisticated firms believe they are resistant to phishing because, in their most basic form, these attacks are quite straightforward to identify and prevent. Workers surrendering their bank credentials in return for claimed lottery riches pose a huge risk, and phishing scams can be considerably more complex and use particular information about your organisation to pull in victims.

Scammers can exploit information about your company and its workers to produce authentic-looking internal emails with harmful links. When employees click on these links, this may allow hackers to access personal data stored in your system. According to the UK Government, 83% of cyber assaults against firms in 2022 were phishing attempts.

Fortunately, efficient spam detection software can typically detect whether an email has originated from outside your organisation or from an unknown source. These breaches are straightforward to avoid if staff recognise the danger and take precautions.

Business Email Compromise

A business email compromise (BEC) fraud is an extension of phishing attacks that especially targets businesses. It involves a hacker impersonating a specific high-level individual inside an organisation. Instead of distributing dangerous links with the intent of obtaining personal data, the scammer will authorise an employee to transfer money into an account that they control under the guise of an official request by a high-level executive. The utilisation of precise information about the company or its clients is critical to the efficacy of this trick – information such as email addresses and company structures that hackers can find through company websites or LinkedIn. In the United States, the FBI documented around 20,000 occurrences in 2021 alone.

If your company is vulnerable to this sort of intrusion, implement protocols to guarantee that all payment requests are examined and double-checked. Workers who are in charge of financial transactions should know exactly how to verify details if an urgent payment request comes in.


Malware is a term for any programme that allows hackers to get access to and control your device. Malware is similar to ransomware in that it often involves demanding money in exchange for the release of a device, but it may also be used to steal data or security credentials. If your device is authorised to connect to a network, the malware creator may obtain access to other devices in the system. They may also be able to learn your passwords, allowing them to get unnoticed access to accounts and data without being detected.

The recommended measures outlined above — high-quality internet security software and employee training and awareness — are the most effective strategies to prevent malware threats.


During a ransomware attack, a hacker gains access to all of your computer’s files using malicious software. Often, these files are kept hostage — the system is locked, and the hacker offers to unlock it in exchange for a large sum of money. When a malevolent actor gains access to your system, this is termed a data breach even if their only goal is to lock down the system. However, the implications can be far more severe if the hacker decides to share, sell, or utilise the information they discover.

Employees clicking on malicious links is the most typical cause of ransomware. Keeping staff aware of the hazards of phishing, implementing strong firewalls and antivirus software, and, if required, giving training to prevent these sorts of errors can all help firms stay safe.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)

A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack involves flooding a website or server with spam traffic that consumes enough bandwidth to bring the target network offline. This hinders legitimate traffic from accessing resources and is frequently exploited by hackers as a smokescreen and diversion. Your IT staff is unable to respond to a data breach while working to restore your website or network. Indeed, data breaches frequently go undiscovered for lengthy periods of time, and these sorts of diversions are a contributing factor.

Data breaches can occur through a number of different sources, so it is vital that any individual is aware of online security measures they can employ to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of one. A business may be held legally liable if they suffer a breach and it was found that it had not employed adequate security measures to protect the data they store; if the breach results in financial loss or emotional distress, a victim will likely be eligible to make a data breach claim.


As mentioned above, Graham Coffey & Co. Solicitors’ data breach experts caution that data breaches can have severe consequences for companies and that there are many types of breaches, from human error to large-scale attacks. In this article, they identified the top ten most common forms of data breaches and provided advice on how to implement effective data management policies to prevent such incidents.

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Stuart Snape

Stuart Snape

Stuart Snape, Managing Partner at Graham Coffey & Co. Solicitors, has more than 20 years of experience in the legal sector, with extensive experience in all aspects of civil litigation, including data breach claims. During this time, he has helped thousands of individuals to claim damages after experiencing suffering caused by the negligence of another party. His passion for helping people who are involved in civil litigation cases culminated in him being appointed as Managing Partner in 2011.

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