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How Do Cyber Criminals Obtain Sensitive Information?

  • Evan Morris 
Security concept: Cyber Crime on computer keyboard background

On the internet, information is worth its weight in gold.

And malicious hackers know it.

Nowadays, companies collect and hold large volumes of user data. Much of it refers to sensitive information that used to be kept by financial and medical institutions only.

For example, threat actors can obtain data by compromising versatile eCommerce websites and applications.

What can businesses do to guard their user’s data?

What are the most common methods that compromise user data, and how to protect that information from cyber criminals?

Read on to find out.


After a malicious actor obtains access to the system, they can employ malware – harmful software that damages an organization. Ransomware is a type of malware that encrypts the data to seek ransom in exchange for the decryption key.

Depending on the type of ransomware, the malware can either lock some of the files, give criminals access to the data, or even disable access to the entire infrastructure.

How common is ransomware around the globe?

Sixty-six percent of companies worldwide have reported that they have been the victim of this kind of malware. Australia is the country that counts the highest number of ransomware cases.

In 2022, there have been several high-profile ransomware cases – including Australian companies Optus and Medibank.

The data breach that occurred at the Optus company has caused the data of 10 million users to be compromised. A lot of the information was sensitive in nature.

Medibank, another major ransomware case, ended with 9.7 million users whose data had been compromised.

Both companies declined to pay the ransom and, with it, also refused to finance further criminal activity.

Data Scraping

Data scraping refers to exploiting the vulnerability in, mostly social media websites, to scrape information such as email and phone numbers as well as names of people using the site.

In this hacking technique, the information that has been given by the users is collected and organized in a spreadsheet.

For example, Twitter has recently been the victim of data scraping. The hacker recently announced on the breach forums that they got the data of 400 million users – many of them high profiles.

The criminal demanded payment in exchange for not selling the data they managed to scrape. The information that the criminal has includes emails, real names and usernames, phone numbers, and more.

Phishing Schemes

The majority of data breaches start with phishing. It’s estimated that 90% of data breaches happen due to this type of social engineering.

To get to the data, hackers rely on the human element and count on the mistakes and errors of trusting scam email recipients.

Phishing has been successfully used for years now, and it continues to be a popular hacking method because people are often the weakest link in security.

Without proper training, they might not recognize a phishing email that bypassed filters and has a malware-infected attachment that is waiting to be downloaded.

Just like other types of hacking, social engineering has also grown in sophistication. There are versatile types of phishing scams – many of them can fool even seasoned cybersecurity professionals that know everything there is to know about phishing.

Some of them are done via email and some over phone calls or SMS messages.

What they have in common is that they seek the victim to take action quickly – in many cases, they seek either credentials under the pretense that the person is the boss or other information that could benefit them and get them access to the system of the company.

How to Keep Cyber Criminals Far From Your Data

Some methods that significantly strengthen security include:

  • Insisting on strong passwords
  • Limiting access based on the role a person has within the company
  • Having AI-based tools for managing security as Threat Exposure Management

Weak passwords are still a major issue that can likely lead to data breaches if uncovered by hackers. Many of them are not long enough, are reused, or contain personal information that can be linked to the user.

Role-based access to the network is important because one stolen credential can give the malicious actor access to the entire system.

Threat exposure management is a program that catalogs assets and tests the systems to assume whether it is likely to be the victim of successful hacking.

MITRE ATT&CK Framework is a library of the latest hacking methods that endanger the data of other companies. AI-powered Threat Exposure Management is linked with the MITRE Framework and is regularly updated.

What’s more, it’s also essential to have a backup of all the data integral to the company. In the case of ransomware, the backups enable teams to continue working even if the hacker managed to unlock important information.

Prevention Is the Key to Keeping the Data Safe

Ransomware, data scraping, and phishing are, among others, some of the most common and damaging incidents that lead to stolen and leaked data.

Once the hacker announces on data breach forums that the data is up for sale or leaks sensitive user information on the hacking forums – it’s too late.

Therefore, to protect the delicate data that customers give to a company, it’s important to insist on strong credentials that can’t be easily cracked and have multiple tools that protect the infrastructure that holds the big data.

And finally, all of the tools that guard the data have to be managed on a regular basis to keep up with the frequent changes in the cloud or any movement that could endanger the information within the system.

The formula to keep the data safe and sound consists of training people, setting protective tools and protocols, and managing the security the business has on a regular basis. Once the security teams do that, the process is repeated.