Social Security numbers, bank account details, credit card information, login credentials, health records. Personal information is a hot commodity for cybercriminals—and should be protected at all costs. Whether it’s directly connected to finances or a gateway to even more valuable information, personal and business data is sought after for one key reason: it’s profitable.

According to Experian, Social Security numbers can sell for roughly $1 each, a single credit card number for up to $110, and a U.S. passport for up to $2,000. But that’s only the beginning. If you or a third-party organization store multiple data points in one place, you may fall victim to a cyberattack that reaps your hacker even greater profits.

In short? The selling of sensitive information can result in significant monetary gains for cybercriminals, and significant complications for you, your business, or anyone else affected by the incident. Doing your best to keep your data secure and protected is essential.

Of course, accidents happen. When a cybercriminal does get access to your data, it’s typically by way of something called a data breach. But exactly what is a data breach, what does a data breach mean, and what is considered a data breach versus a different type of cybersecurity incident?

Read on to learn more about the ins and outs of data breaches, and an answer to the question: “What is a data breach?”

What Is A Data Breach?

So you are wondering, “What is a data breach?” The truth is, you may already have experienced one.

A data breach is an incident in which confidential, protected, or otherwise sensitive information is exposed or accessed without authorization. It can include personal information or business data, and it doesn’t always happen as the result of a targeted cyberattack.

In reality, data breaches occur accidentally all the time, when people unknowingly expose their information online. Regardless of how information is released, it’s likely to find its way into the hands of cybercriminals—resulting in profits at your (or your business’s) expense.

Data breaches may occur as a result of weak login credentials or password security, malware or ransomware attacks, phishing or other social engineering attacks, and any other types of cyberattacks or security vulnerabilities. They may even occur due to lost, misplaced, or stolen hardware such as phones, computers, or hard drives. Once information is in the hands of someone it doesn’t belong to, it’s officially been breached.

Now that you know the answer to “what is a data breach?” and what one entails, you may be wondering about all the potential ramifications. What does a data breach mean in general, what does a data breach mean for you, and what does a data breach mean for a business? Let’s take a closer look.

What Does A Data Breach Mean?

Depending on the specific information at stake and the cybercriminal at play, some data breaches may be more severe than others. Generally, a data breach means your personal or business information has been compromised, and until the threat is handled, you remain at an increased risk of further attacks.

Even just one piece of leaked data—whether that’s an account login, credit card number, or anything else—can cause a snowball effect, giving cybercriminals a key to unlocking more of your data and furthering their agenda, whatever that may be.

So, what does a data breach mean—and what is a data breach’s results? During a data breach, a cybercriminal might do any of the following:

  • Withdraws money from your banking or investment accounts (i.e. steals your money)
  • Use your benefits
  • Use your credit card(s) and its rewards (such as airline miles)
  • Open a new credit card under your name
  • File a tax return in your name (and steal the tax refund)
  • Receive medical treatment through your health insurance
  • Apply for government benefits
  • Open utility or telecommunication accounts
  • Sell your data on the dark web

Just as data breaches can take many different forms, the results of a data breach—along with the severity and future complications—vary case by case. But exactly what is considered a data breach—and how can you tell if you or someone you know has experienced one?

What is considered a data breach?

As mentioned above, a data breach is any incident in which information is accessed without authorization. This can be personal information such as a Social Security number, credit card number, or passport—or business data including anything from corporate bank account information to business credit card numbers and private customer information.

Whether the information is attained through a one-time hack, a large-scale cybersecurity attack, or simply left exposed by a careless individual, the moment it’s accessed by someone it doesn’t belong to, the data breach has occurred. That’s what is considered a data breach, and what threat bad actors do from there—exploiting it, selling it, or further sharing it across the internet—are simply its ramifications.

While unauthorized access to sensitive information is what constitutes and what is considered a data breach, it is by no means the end of the victim’s journey. Once a breach has been discovered, the necessary measures to retrieve or replace what has been stolen, update all associated credentials, and re-secure the sensitive information must be taken immediately—and can span days, months, or even years beyond the initial breach.

Data breaches can result in a range of complications—lost funds, damaged reputations, travel inconveniences, and time-consuming and costly repairs. Unfortunately, data breaches and other similar cybersecurity incidents and attacks are only becoming more common. As more of our lives (and by extension, more of our valuable information) migrate online, opportunities for cybercriminals to profit off of our vulnerabilities proliferate—and data breach attempts become increasingly attractive. To better protect your personal and business information against data breaches, learn more about SiteLock’s security products today.