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What can we learn from big-name data breaches?

Recently we came across a website called Information is Beautiful, which visualises mass data sets into interactive charts. One chart that caught our eye was ‘World’s Biggest Data Breaches’, outlining the largest breaches of data since 2005. This visualisation really highlights the sheer number of breaches we’ve seen in recent years.

The frequency and severity of data breaches has helped make the word ‘hack’ an everyday term, and brought the issue of cyber security to the fore, particularly across the US, the UK and mainland Europe. The average consumer is now aware of the potential for their data to be illegally accessed online by anonymous third parties, who may steal personal information for a variety of nefarious uses. Myspace, the US voter database, eBay, JPMorgan Chase, Uber – just a handful of the many breaches we’ve seen over the last 24 months. With petabytes of personal, financial and medical information stored online, this is a worrying trend.

So why are these hacks happening so frequently? Large scale breaches have occurred regularly since 2005, but it wasn’t until 2009 that they became as frequent as they are today. Since 2009, breaches involving the theft of over 100 million records have taken place almost every year. Myspace, eBay, LinkedIn, Court Ventures and Heartland are just some of the biggest that spring to mind. But what caused this spike? Interestingly, Information is Beautiful allows you to filter the results to see the causes.

Accidental publication has been a major cause of data breaches. Apple, Facebook and AOL are just three organisations that saw millions of confidential records released due to administrative errors. A similar number of breaches were due to configuration errors, including the mass breach of over 191 million records from the US voter database. Even more worrying is that poor security resulted in numerous data breaches affecting the IRS, Citigroup and Mozilla, putting huge amounts of data at risk. All that being said, the overwhelming majority of breaches are due to hacking.

Hackers are using more sophisticated methods and becoming more determined, putting organisations under greater pressure than ever. Sensitive information isn’t the only thing at risk, with a large breach having the potential to severely damage a company’s reputation. For these reasons, organisations have had to adapt and work harder to ensure data security. Businesses now need to work closely with their cloud hosting providers to ensure all vulnerabilities are covered. Cloud providers such as Fasthosts now offer continuous support and advice on new threats and actions needed to counter them, while also providing guidance to educate users on best practice. For example, simple measures such as adopting secure passwords (containing at least eight alphanumeric characters) can help protect data at the most basic level.

Online security can no longer simply react to data hacks – instead, it needs to protect data by anticipating threats. The changing nature of security breaches means the battle will continue to rage on, but organisations can take steps to ensure they’re as prepared as they possibly can be. At Fasthosts, we support our customers at every stage to maintain maximum levels of security within our fully penetration-tested CloudNX platform. This reliable infrastructure is housed at our own secure UK data centres, with security features such as firewalls and public networks ensuring you have everything you need to keep your data safe.

Neal Thoms's picture

Neal Thoms

Author As a content creator for Fasthosts, Neal’s main focus is cloud technology and how it’s transforming everything we do online. He’s worked in the web hosting industry for over five years.