The Human Factor: Understanding the Causes of Data Breach

The Human Factor

In today’s digital age, data breaches have become a major concern for businesses and organizations. They occur when sensitive information is accessed, stolen, or used by unauthorized individuals. It can lead to financial losses, reputation damage, and legal consequences.

One of the main reasons for data breaches is human error. This can happen due to a lack of awareness or training, carelessness, or even malicious intent. Even with advanced technology and cybersecurity measures, human error can still lead to data breaches.

In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at the different types of human error that can cause data breaches. We’ll also share some examples of data breaches caused by human error. We’ll discuss the impact of human error on businesses and organizations, and provide tips on how to prevent it.

Types of Human Error : Accidental Actions

Human error is a significant factor that can lead to the exposure of sensitive information and data breaches, which can cause financial losses, reputational damage, and legal consequences. In this section, we’ll delve deeper into the different types of human error that can lead to data breaches.

Accidental actions and malicious actions are the two main categories of human error. Accidental actions occur unintentionally and result from a lack of attention or awareness, while malicious actions are carried out deliberately and with malicious intent. Accidental actions can be caused by misdirected emails, weak passwords, and lost or stolen devices. 

Misdirected Emails

Misdirected emails are a common mistake made by people that can lead to serious consequences. This type of error happens when someone sends an email containing sensitive information to the wrong person. It can happen in a few different ways, such as when someone accidentally types in the wrong email address or selects the wrong recipient from a list. Unfortunately, these mistakes can result in confidential information being exposed to unauthorized individuals, which can have significant consequences.

For example, if someone sends an email containing important financial information to the wrong recipient, it can cause financial losses, legal issues, and damage to the reputation of the organization. Similarly, if an email containing personal data like social security numbers or medical records is sent to the wrong person, it can lead to identity theft or other privacy violations.

Misdirected emails can happen at any stage of the email process, including when someone is composing, addressing, or sending the email. It can happen to anyone, regardless of their level of experience with email. To prevent misdirected emails, businesses and organizations should have clear email policies and procedures in place. They can also provide training to employees on the importance of proper email etiquette, and use secure email encryption solutions to help protect sensitive information.

Weak Password

Weak passwords can be a significant problem for businesses and organizations when it comes to protecting sensitive information. If employees use simple or commonly used passwords, or reuse passwords across multiple accounts, they create security vulnerabilities that can be exploited by cybercriminals. This can lead to data breaches and the theft of valuable information.

For instance, if an employee uses the same weak password for their email, banking, and social media accounts, a hacker who guesses or cracks the password can gain access to all three accounts. This can result in the theft of financial and personal information, and even identity theft.

To avoid weak passwords, businesses and organizations can establish strict password policies that require employees to create strong passwords. These passwords should be at least 12 characters long, contain a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols, and should not be easy to guess. Employees should also be encouraged to use password managers to securely store their passwords.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) can provide an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide additional authentication, such as a fingerprint or a code sent to their phone, in addition to a password. MFA can make it more difficult for hackers to gain access to sensitive information.

Lost or Stoler Devices

One of the common causes of data breaches is the loss or theft of devices such as laptops or mobile phones. Such devices are frequently used to store and access sensitive information, and when they are lost or stolen, the information they contain can easily fall into the wrong hands.

When a device containing sensitive information is lost or stolen, it can have serious consequences for a business or organization. The sensitive information on the device can be accessed and exploited by unauthorized individuals, leading to reputational damage, financial losses, and legal liability. This can have long-lasting effects on a company’s operations and ability to conduct business.

For example, if an employee’s laptop containing sensitive customer data is lost or stolen, cybercriminals could gain access to that data and use it for identity theft, fraud, or other illegal activities. This could result in a loss of customers’ trust, financial losses, and potential legal action against the company.

To avoid data breaches resulting from lost or stolen devices, businesses and organizations should take steps to secure their devices and the sensitive information they contain. This includes implementing security measures such as encryption, password protection, and remote wipe capabilities. This can help ensure that even if a device is lost or stolen, the data on it remains protected and cannot be accessed by unauthorized individuals.

Example of Accidental Actions Causes Data Breach

The Dropbox data breach occurred in 2012 when an employee’s password was stolen, giving hackers access to a database containing the email addresses and encrypted passwords of 68 million Dropbox users. The employee had reused the password on multiple accounts, which made it easier for the hackers to gain access.

This data breach was a result of human error, as the employee did not use a strong, unique password and had reused the password on multiple accounts. Dropbox has since implemented two-factor authentication and other security measures to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

Types of Human Error : Malicious Actions

Malicious Actions

Malicious actions, on the other hand, are carried out with malicious intent. Malicious actions can be caused by insider threats, social engineer attacks, and lack of security awareness and training.

Insider Threat

Insider threats are a major concern for companies and organizations when it comes to data breaches. This type of error can happen when an employee or contractor intentionally or unintentionally causes a data breach. It can happen in situations where these insiders have access to sensitive information and decide to use it in a way that could cause harm to the organization.

One type of insider threat is when an employee deliberately exploits their access privileges to steal confidential information or cause harm to the organization. This could happen for various reasons, such as personal gain or revenge. For instance, a former employee with access to sensitive data might steal it and use it for their own personal business, or they could sell it to a competitor for profit.

Another type of insider threat is when an employee accidentally causes a data breach due to a lack of knowledge or carelessness. This can happen because the employee was not trained properly on cybersecurity practices or because they were overworked and made a mistake. For instance, an employee could accidentally send an email containing sensitive information to the wrong person, or forget to encrypt an attachment.

To prevent insider threats, companies and organizations should implement various security measures, including access controls, monitoring and auditing, and training programs. Access controls should be put in place to limit an employee’s access to only the information they need for their job. Monitoring and auditing can help detect unusual activities that may indicate insider threats. Training programs can educate employees about cybersecurity risks and how to identify and report suspicious activities.

Social Engineering Attacks

Social engineering attacks are a type of cyberattack that uses psychological manipulation to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information, like passwords, credit card numbers, or other confidential data. These attacks can be carried out through various mediums, like phishing emails, phone calls, or social media, and can be challenging to detect.

For instance, one social engineering attack is phishing, where attackers create a convincing email that appears to be from a reputable source, like a bank or company. They then persuade recipients to click on a link or enter personal information. Once the victim does so, the attacker can gain access to their account or sensitive data.

Another example of social engineering is pretexting, where attackers pose as a trustworthy person or authority figure to extract sensitive information. For example, they might pose as an IT technician and ask for a user’s login credentials, pretending to fix a technical issue.

Social engineering attacks can also be executed through social media platforms. Hackers can create fake profiles and befriend victims, building trust over time before requesting personal information or passwords.

To prevent social engineering attacks, it’s essential to be aware of the methods used by attackers. Organizations should regularly train their employees on identifying and reporting phishing and other social engineering attacks. Users should also be cautious about unsolicited emails or requests for personal information, and verify the identity of the person or company before sharing sensitive data.

Lack of Security Awarenenss

A major factor in causing data breaches is the lack of knowledge and training among employees regarding cybersecurity risks and threats. Employees who are not familiar with such risks may unintentionally engage in activities that could compromise their organization’s data security.

For example, they may fall prey to phishing scams, download malicious software, or use weak passwords, which can make it easier for hackers to access their accounts. Employees who are not familiar with proper security protocols may also inadvertently leave sensitive information unencrypted or not use two-factor authentication.

To prevent data breaches caused by the lack of security awareness and training, organizations must prioritize regular training sessions to educate their employees on cybersecurity threats and how to identify and avoid them. The training should cover topics such as password hygiene, social engineering attacks, and security protocols. Organizations should also enforce strict password policies, such as mandatory password changes and the use of complex passwords, to protect their sensitive information.

Example of Malicious Actions Causes Data Breach

Snowden Leak case, where Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA), leaked classified information about NSA surveillance programs to the media in 2013. Snowden had access to sensitive information due to his job, and he used his privileges to obtain and leak the information.

This data breach was a result of an insider threat, as Snowden intentionally leaked sensitive information. The incident highlighted the need for organizations to monitor and restrict access to sensitive information, as well as the importance of educating employees about the potential consequences of insider threats.


We can see that human error is a major contributor to data breaches. Mistakes such as sending emails to the wrong person, using weak passwords, and losing devices can expose sensitive information to unauthorized individuals. Additionally, employees who intentionally or unintentionally cause data breaches or are not aware of cybersecurity risks can create a security threat.

To prevent such incidents, companies should prioritize measures such as implementing strong password policies, using two-factor authentication, monitoring access to confidential data, and providing regular cybersecurity training to employees. By taking proactive steps, organizations can avoid the financial and reputational damage caused by human error-based data breaches.

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