Cyber attacks often involve data exfiltration. If a hacker breaches your computer — or a computer connected to your business’s network — he or she may look for sensitive data. Upon identifying the sensitive data, the hacker may attempt to extract it. While you can implement safeguards to secure your sensitive data, it’s not always enough to protect against data exfiltration. What is data exfiltration in cybersecurity exactly?

Overview of Data Exfiltration

Data exfiltration refers to the theft, deletion or movement of data by an authorized user. Research shows that hundreds of millions of data records are exposed during any given year. When performing a cyber attack, hackers often target sensitive data. They may use the sensitive data for identity theft purposes, or they may sell it on the black market. Alternatively, some hackers steal capture so that they can hold it for ransom.

In cyber attacks that involve the theft, deletion or movement of data by an authorized user is considered a data exfiltration attack. All intentional data breaches are classified as data exfiltration attacks. When they occur, the hacker behind the data breach may steal, delete or move the targeted data.

How to Prevent Data Exfilitration

While data exfiltration is common, there are ways to prevent it. You can use a firewall, for instance, to lower the risk of data exfiltration. Firewalls are available in different types, but they all work by filtering potentially malicious traffic based on a set of rules. A firewall will act as the gatekeeper to your business’s network. Before a client can connect to your business’s network, it must pass through the firewall. If the firewall believes the client is potentially malicious — it will use a set of rules to distinguish between safe and malicious clients — traffic from that client will be blocked.

You can use encryption to prevent data exfiltration as well. Encryption won’t prevent hackers from accessing your business’s network. It will, however, prevent them from reading your sensitive data. Encrypted data isn’t decipherable. To read encrypted data, hackers must obtain the appropriate cryptographic key for it.

Keeping your software up to date will lower the risk of data exfiltration attacks. Outdated software is a security vulnerability. And like other security vulnerabilities, it can open the doors to hackers. A hacker may exploit a weakness in a piece of outdated software to breach your business’s network and, thus, steal or move your sensitive data.