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Types of Personal Data Breach

types of personal data breach

Data breaches have been a growing concern over the past decades. The world has gone more online than ever, to the point that it sometimes feels as if nearly every aspect of your life is tracked or recorded in data. This is part of the reason that the Data Protection Act has been created – to keep your vital information safe in the hands of those you have entrusted it to.

Any time that the personal data of an individual is accessed by an unauthorised individual, meaning a person who does not have the position and appropriate reason for accessing the information, a personal data breach has occurred. That being said, there are several types of data breaches.

It’s important to understand the different types of personal data breaches. As time goes on, data breaches are becoming more and more common – and it’s important for people to understand exactly what each type of breach is, and what their consequences are. 

Types of Personal Data Breaches

There are several different types of data breaches, all with different levels of severity and possible consequences. 

  • Unauthorised Access – This is the bare minimum that needs to happen for a case to be considered a data breach. When an individual who has no right to have access to personal information is able to do so, we call it unauthorised access and declare it a breach of data protection. This can be a result of weak security measures, or even an inside role where an employee accidentally views the data that was not meant for them. 
  • Data Loss – Accidental or unintentional data loss can be anything from accidental deletion, to the data being sent to an unknown location. In these cases, data may not actually be in the wrong hands of anyone. Nonetheless, this is a breach of the Data Protection Act. 
  • Malware Attacks – Malware is another cause of breaches, probably the cause that gets most companies in trouble. Malware refers to one of the many forms of viruses that causes security breaches – such as viruses, worms, trojans, ransomware and spyware. 
  • Phishing and Social Engineering Attacks – These breaches are done through manipulation. Through either direct correspondence, or through a deceptive email, the goal of a phishing/social engineering attack is to trick an authorised individual to give up details willingly. This is similar to calls from scam call centres, for example. 
  • Physical Theft or Loss – This is fairly self explanatory, but by losing personal equipment that holds this sensitive information, you can lose the data by extension. The amount of accountability the authorised party has may decrease if the loss is result of a theft, however – although it’s expected for machines that hold such sensitive information to have security measures in cases such as these. 
  • Denial of Service/Distributed Denial of Service Attacks – These don’t typically result in the loss of data, as the goal of the attack is to disrupt a network or online service and make it inaccessible. Nonetheless, these attacks are often used as a smokescreen for other malicious activities. 
  • Insider Threat – This involves data breaches that are committed by individuals whom are within the organisation being breached. This could be a current employee, or a former employee. Sometimes it can also be tangentially related parties, such as contractors or business associates who abuse their privileges. 

We have had several questions about one type of data breach in particular that we are going to delve into next – the accidental destruction of data. 

Accidental Destruction of Personal Data

Accidental destruction of personal data falls under the data loss category. This section is a deep dive into this area. 

The accidental destruction of personal data refers to situations in which the data is lost through the inadvertent deletion or the destruction of the holding hardware. This can occur for various reasons, such as human error, software glitches and hardware malfunctions. 

Specific examples include deleting critical files required for the normal function of a PC, leading to the foundational files of the system being compromised and preventing the machine from booting. In this example, the culpability of the person who destroyed the data is high, even if that wasn’t their intention. Some of this culpability may lessen depending on the level of training the employee has been given, and the safeguards in place to stop things like this from happening. 

However, there are also instances where an individual’s and business’s culpability wouldn’t be so high. For example, if a natural disaster occurred within your living or work area, the destruction of property is expected. That being said, the level of culpability would depend on how deep their disaster recovery and business continuity measures are. For instance, off-site backups are expected to be made regularly in case of things like this. 

The impacts of this breach on the business can be significant if the business does not have proper measures to protect against the loss of data. The permanent loss of personal and important data can lead to operational issues, the loss of customer trust and potential penalties by regulatory bodies. 

An example of this type of breach was the deletion of user data in 2019 on MySpace. It was a highly publicised event that lead to a large amount of embarrassment, as there was an error in server migration that led to the accidental loss of music files that was uploaded by their userbase between 2003 and 2015. 

Steps to Prevent a Data Breach

To minimise the risk and potential damage of data breaches, organisations must adopt comprehensive and proactive approaches that centre around several best practices.

  • Secure Data Handling: At the forefront of preventing breaches is the implementation of stringent access control measures. Data should be encrypted both in transit and at rest, with regular audits to detect any vulnerabilities or unauthorised access attempts. The importance of safely disposing of or anonymising redundant data cannot be understated, as this can significantly reduce the amount of data vulnerable to breaches.
  • Regular Data Backups: Establishing a schedule for regular, secure backups is crucial. These backups should be tested frequently for data integrity. Off-site or cloud backups can also provide an extra layer of resilience against physical damage, such as natural disasters.
  • Cybersecurity Training: Employees can be an organisation’s first line of defence against breaches. Regular training to recognise and appropriately respond to potential threats, especially phishing and social engineering attempts, can greatly mitigate risk.
  • Security Software: Up-to-date, robust security software is vital in any organisation’s defence strategy. Firewalls, anti-malware tools, and intrusion detection systems can identify and neutralise threats before a breach occurs.


Data breaches, whether due to malicious attacks or accidental data destruction, pose significant risks to any organisation. Understanding the different types of data breaches and their potential impacts is the first step in forming a robust defence. 

By implementing secure data handling practices, maintaining regular backups, investing in employee training, and utilising comprehensive security software, organisations can build a formidable line of defence against data breaches. While prevention is always the best course of action, being prepared to respond quickly and effectively to a breach when it occurs can significantly limit the damage and aid in swift recovery.

Cause of Data Breaches

The causes of data breaches are numerous, but they are usually the result of human error. The depth of this error can range from simplistic mistakes that anyone could make, such as sending sensitive information to a recipient who is not authorised in having it, to much more complex situations, such as a bad actor gaining access to a network through a bug they managed to worm into the system. 

A lot of these worms and malware actually find their way into the system through unknowing human error. An example of this could be an administrator who receives an email with an executable file within, and they click on this file, not knowing that this will release a virus onto their system that will allow others access. Sometimes, unauthorised parties enter personal data using the logins of employees, whose details they stole.

There have also been instances of employees who were disgruntled with their employers actually committing the data breaches themselves, using their position and knowledge of the systems to their advantage. This is usually to cause damage to the company that they believe has been treating them unfairly. 

Impacts of a Data Breach

The impacts of a data breach can be wide-reaching, and differ from person to person. In fact, data breaches sometimes don’t even impact individuals at all, but rather entire companies. 

For an individual, a data breach could result in physical, mental or financial harm. It could reveal a person’s personal address, for example, which may lead to feelings of fear, especially if said person has a history of mental illness. It could also lead to bank account details being leaked, meaning financial loss or maybe even being locked out of the account altogether. Regardless, even if an individual doesn’t experience any exterior change in their life, their personal mental strength can be affected. 

For a business, even if nothing comes from the information that has been accessed, a discovery that a breach had ever occurred could result in a loss of reputation, loss of income through the payment of fines, a loss of customers and a decline in shareholder value. 

Data breaches have long-term implications for all involved. Once the breach has been made a single time, and an individual has had access to that data, then it’s assumed that the data’s privacy has been permanently lost. This is because there’s no telling how many copies of the data have been made, where the data is, or what’s being done with it.

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