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Attacks, Vulnerabilities

What is Data exfiltration?

Data is the biggest asset that organizations/businesses can have in the present era. With proper and effective use, one can grow exponentially. However, if the same data goes into the hands of someone unwanted (the one without authority), downfall or heavy loss is certain.

Exfiltration of data is one danger that can’t be avoided by any means. Harmful to your data’s privacy, it needs to be fixed immediately. In doubt about what it is or how to guard against it? Read ahead.

What is Data exfiltration?

Data exfiltration meaning

It is the process of removing, stealing, exporting, manipulating, and accessing private data in an unauthorized manner. It includes data saved or stored anywhere, mobile devices, servers, computers, external storage devices, etc.

Mostly done by intruders or hackers with ill intentions, data-exfiltration is a matter of concern for both individuals and organizations. Hackers/cybercriminals can use the data as it is or carry out more advanced attacks using it. Both situations are harmful and can cause severe damage based on the type of data stolen.

How it works?

To begin, this problem can occur internally or externally

An internal issue occurs when someone already has access to the database and steals/exports/downloads the data. Mostly, it entails personnel having immediate access data for personal gains. 

Not all internal exfiltration is intentional. Some are accidental as well and take place because of the negligence of an employee. For instance, if an employee forgets to activate the server authentication and leaves it unprotected for a long time. Hackers can access such servers and steal the data.

External one involves the access/usage of data by any outsider who is unauthorized for the same. The outsider is mostly a hacker or cybercriminal that invades the network/server/storage to access the data. To make it happen, the threat actor will utilize a malware or become an imposter to access the data. In both ways, a huge amount of data can be at risk.

How it works
How it works


With the increasing intelligence of cybercriminals, such attacks are becoming advanced with each passing day. Many kinds and varieties of this threat exist, and if you want to keep your data protected, it’s essential to know about its common types:

  • Human error

This is the most basic and commonly occurred issue that involves careless usage of data storage spaces or databases by someone authorized. 

See one of the top data exfiltration examples here:

If an admin logins to the company’s network or server and forgets to log out, leaving the network/server open, threat actors can use this opportunity to extract the data from those places. Even though it was planned or done purposely, human error can cause severe damage to the data. So, it is better to keep an eye on such occurrences.

  • Social Engineering (SE) & Phishing Attacks

Done by skilled hackers or cybercriminals, phishing and social engineering attacks are responsible for most of the data theft or stealing. Social engineering involves manipulating targets in a way that they end up downloading or installing malware that will help the bad actor to steal or access the database that the target is using or accessing over the devices. Many tricks are used to lure the target.

In phishing like SE methods, hackers circulate emails - featuring malware or viruses - in bulk. When a person opens the email and downloads the corrupted attachment, a virus/malware gets installed on the device. Using this, one can easily access the data.

At times, a phishing attack involves redirecting the target to a fake version of a famous website and then stealing the data. For instance, the email will appears to be arriving from a legitimate source and will feature a link. When the target clicks on the link, s/he will be redirected to a corrupted website. Once the target enters the information on that website, it goes directly to the hacker.

  • Downloads

Among the top data exfiltration techniques, it takes place when an insider visits an unsafe website and downloads a file from there. If the file features malware, the hacker will be able to access the device and store data remotely.

It’s not always a file download. If a person downloads unprotected or unsafe software or uses unsafe devices like an external drive or camera, a hacker also has a chance to steal the data.

  • Uploads

When someone trusted uploads sensitive data and information to any outside/external resources that are not safe, internal data exfiltration takes place. Mostly, it’s intentional only. But, it could be accidental as well. The unsecure external resource could be any storage or data-driven device.

These are the common data exfiltration attack types. However, they are not the only ones. Based on the techniques used, many other kinds also exist.

Detecting Data Exfiltration

If left undetected, an attack can cause serious damage. Hence, one should be aware of viable techniques to mitigate the risks at an early stage. Here are some experts' recommended data exfiltration detection approaches to adopt.

  • Use a DLP solution

DLP stands for Data Loss Prevention and is pre-built software that helps organizations/individuals to track data usage and corresponding losses. The software, once installed, will keep an eye on the amount of data created and used. It ensures that no one is allowed to exchange data beyond the periphery of a secured network or server. 

It’s a great way to prevent internal data exfiltration. While it’s highly effective, it’s not a complete solution. Also, their setup, monitoring, and management aren’t easy. One has to invest heavy time and effort to pull it off.

  • Take the help of IDS

IDS or intrusion detection system is what many cybersecurity experts suggest. They are also highly advanced software/tools that scans network/servers for the presence of any ill-intended traffic or activity. The tool features pre-defined malicious activities for early detection.

Use it regularly to scan the networks and servers. If there are any serious threats or malicious activities are noticed on both these resources, the tool will inform the admin immediately. These tools could be cloud-based, hardware to install, or plug-and-play tools. Regardless of the deployment type, IDS is capable of protecting the network/resources by all means.

  • Use an anti-virus

For the small scale detection of exfiltration, you can use anti-virus software. The program is designed to spot any ill content in the devices that you use to access data. It will also notify you when you try to access a corrupted software or program.

The Prevention

Having the knowledge of exfiltration-detection isn’t enough. It’s important to learn about its prevention techniques as well. With viable prevention techniques, it’s easy to reduce the threats and improve data safety. However, the surged amount of data that one deals with today and assorted data exfiltration types make it a difficult task to achieve. 

Organizations are having a tough time finding which data requires the utmost attention and which danger should be prevented first.

We would like to recommend the below-mentioned data exfiltration prevention technique for everyone who has a database to protect.

  • Always have controlled user access

The core of many attacks is unauthorized or unmonitored access to the database. Whether the attack happened at the hands of an internal source or by an outsider, an unprotected database remained the main cause for the success of a data exfiltration attack.

First thing first, it’s important to provide only authorized access to the database and monitor its usage. You have ample options on this front. You can use 2FA or multiple authentication techniques, use role-based access, and apply access limits. With them, you’re able to monitor who is accessing the database for what purposes and for how long.

To reap maximum benefits from this approach, it’s important to apply it to every database and entry point database. You must cover networks, servers, external or internal storage, data-driven devices, and so on. 

When it comes to protecting the network/server/website database from any unwanted access or invasion, nothing can beat the viability of a firewall. When applied effectively, firewalls are useful to stop any data intrusion. Some technically-sound firewalls are capable of guarding networks against external and internal threats with the same ease and perfection. 

They offer security solutions such as VPN, proxy servers, IP monitoring, SSL, encryption, and many more. With extensive traffic monitoring, an advanced firewall is capable of traffic monitoring as well.

SIEM (security info & event mgmt system) is a potential tool to protect data at every stage. Whether data is in motion or is at rest, the tool is useful to protect the data endpoints. These tools are also useful to spot any abnormal activity during the data transfer or usage. This way, it will help one to ensure data is in safe hands. 

  • Spread awareness and educate users 

As an enterprise, you must educate your employees, partners, or anyone else who is using or accessing organizational data about the dangers of improper data handling. Conduct training programs and awareness workshops. Make them understand how to use data responsibly and not entertain any illicit or suspicious activity. 

What does Wallarm offer for protection?

Wallarm is a highly advanced API security platform used by many AppSec experts. The platform offers some of the most doable exfiltration prevention solutions that anyone can use with ease. Let’s have a look at them.

API carries very sensitive information and data. If that data is stolen or compromised, the entire application comes at huge risk. Wallarm offers a cutting-edge API security platform that can protect any kind of API in any environment. Once implemented, the platform can help in threat detection, monitoring, and remedial.

The cloud WAF solution of Wallarm is the best in the market. Designed using modern detection techniques such as RegExps, bypass resistance, lib detection, and many more, this cloud WAF can do effective detection of OWASP Top 10 threats, API abuse, account takeover, and many dangers. It’s a fully automated solution to use.

It comes with various integrations. You can easily pair it with your DevOps tools, Public API, SOARs, messengers, and SIEMs and improve data security. It uses black-box and passive scans to spot all sorts of vulnerabilities. With a zero false positive rate, this solution should be in everyone’s security strategy.

As mentioned above, the firewall is one of the most preferred ways to monitor the presence of any malicious activity. However, it’s going to happen only when you have a strong firewall in place. Wallarm provides the GotestWAF tool. It’s an online service that will help one to check how strong is the deployed or used firewall. It extensively carries out the scan of the firewall and analyzes all of its functional aspects.

With all these solutions, Wallarm is helping organizations of all sorts to safeguard data, control access to databases, and enjoy stress-free operations. Try out these solutions today and enjoy secured data usage.



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February 26, 2024
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