6 Examples of Data Exfiltration

  • By Maddie Rosenthal
  • 30 April 2020

Over the past two years, 90% of the world’s data has been generated. And, as the sheer volume of data continues to grow, organizations are becoming more and more susceptible to data exfiltration

But, why would someone want to exfiltrate data?

Data is valuable currency. From an e-commerce business to a manufacturing company, organizations across industries hold sensitive information about the business, its employees, customers, and clients.

What is data exfiltration?

Simply put, data exfiltration indicates the movement of sensitive data from inside the organization to outside without authorization. This can either be done accidentally or deliberately.

The consequences of data exfiltration aren’t just around lost data. A breach means reputational damage, lost customer trust, and fines. The best way to illustrate the different types of data exfiltration and the impact these incidents have on businesses is with examples.

Examples of data exfiltration 

When it comes to data exfiltration, there are countless motives and methods. But, you can broadly group attempts into two categories: data exfiltration by someone within the organization, for example, a disgruntled or negligent employee, and data exfiltration by someone outside the organization; for example, a competitor. 

Data exfiltration by insiders

Data exfiltration by an insider indicates that company data has been shared by a member of the company to people (or organizations) outside of the company.  

While most organizations have security software and policies in place to prevent insider threats from moving data outside of the office environment and outside of company control, insiders have easy access to company data, may know workarounds, and may have the technical know-how to infiltrate “secure” systems. 

Here are three examples of data exfiltration by insiders: 

  1. Over the course of 9 months, an employee at Anthem Health Insurance forwarded 18,500 members records’ to a third-party vendor. These records included Personally Identifiable Information (PII) like social security numbers, last names, and dates of birth.
  2. After exfiltrating nearly 100 GB of data from an unnamed financial company that offered loan services to Ukraine citizens, an employee’s computer equipment was seized. Police later found out the suspect was planning on selling the data to a representative of one of his former employer’s competitors for $4,000. 
  3. Not all examples of data exfiltration are malicious, though. Some breaches happen inadvertently, like when an employee leaving the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) accidentally downloaded data for 44,000 FDIC customers onto a personal storage device and took it out of the agency. 

Exfiltration by outsiders

Unlike exfiltration by insiders, exfiltration by outsiders indicates that someone from outside an organization has stolen valuable company data. 

Here are three examples of data exfiltration by outsiders: 

  1. In 2014, eBay suffered a breach that impacted 145 million users. In this case, cybercriminals gained unauthorized access to eBay’s corporate network through a handful of compromised employee log-in credentials. At the time, it was the second-biggest breach of a U.S. company based on the number of records accessed by hackers. 
  2. Stealing login credentials isn’t the only way bad actors can gain access to a network. In 2019, malware was discovered on Wawa payment processing servers. This malware harvested the credit card data of over 30 million customers, including card number, expiration date, and cardholder name. 
  3. 91% of data breaches start with a phishing email. While many phishing emails direct targets to wire money, pay an invoice, or provide bank account details, some request sensitive employee or client information, for example, W-2 forms. You can read more about Tax Day scams on our blog. 

Looking for more information about data exfiltration or data loss prevention? Follow these links:

  1. What is Data Exfiltration? Tips for Preventing Data Exfiltration Attacks
  2. What is Data Loss Prevention (DLP)?
  3. A Complete Overview of DLP on Email
Maddie Rosenthal