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Data Breach

A data breach is a security incident during which sensitive, protected, or confidential data has been accessed or exposed to unauthorized entities. Data breaches occur in organizations of all sizes, from schools to small businesses to enterprise organizations. These incidents may expose protected or personal health information (PHI), personally identifiable information (PII), intellectual property, classified information, or other confidential data. 

Some types of protected personal information include: 

  • Driver’s license numbers
  • Medical records
  • Biometrics
  • Financial records 
  • Social security numbers 
  • Criminal records

For businesses, sensitive data may also include customer lists, source code, credit and debit card information, user data, and other sensitive information. 

Data breaches may be caused by different types of cyberattacks, such as malware, viruses, phishing attacks, ransomware, or theft of physical devices. Data breaches may also be due to misconfigurations, unpatched security vulnerabilities, malicious insiders, or other types of insider errors. Allowing unauthorized individuals into a building or floor, attaching or sharing the wrong document, or even copying the wrong person on an email all have the potential to expose data and result in a significant data breach

Many industries, particularly the financial and healthcare industries, mandate controls of sensitive data. Industry guidelines and government regulations increasingly require strict controls, disclosure rules if a breach occurs, and penalties or fines for organizations that fail to safeguard the data in their care. 

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) applies to financial institutions and businesses that handle financial information. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulates who has access to view and use PHI in the healthcare industry. 

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union increases individuals’ control and rights over their personal data and includes the potential for significant fines for organizations found not to be in compliance with the regulation. Other countries also have significant regulations regarding data protection. The United States has several laws at the federal and state levels intended to protect the personal data of U.S. residents.  

Negative impacts to a business due to a data breach include fines; costs related to investigating, mitigating, and recovering from the incident; reputation loss; litigation; and possibly even the inability to operate the business.     

Related Terms


An acronym of Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification.

It is a security framework for Defense Industrial Base contractors to follow. CMMC 2.0 was announced by the Department of Defense in November 2021 and sets forth requirements for safeguarding Controlled Unclassified Information and other regulated data.

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False Positive

A false positive is an alert that incorrectly indicates a vulnerability exists or malicious activity is occurring. These false positives add a substantial number of alerts that need to be evaluated, increasing the noise level for security teams. 

False positives may be triggered by a variety of incidents, such as: 

  • User repeatedly mistypes their password, triggering a brute-force alarm
  • Scanning and security software identifies a legitimate operation as an attack
  • A signature configured to identify a type of malware misidentifies an activity
  • Software bugs misidentified as an attack
  • Unrecognized network traffic
  • Application security testing tools misidentify results as security issues

The increase of security testing and monitoring tools increases the overall number of alerts security teams receive, which in turn increases the number of false positives coming in to be triaged. These types of security events increase the noise for overburdened security teams, making them more likely to ignore valid security events because they assume they are false positives. 

Realistically, security teams cannot and do not need to resolve every single issue exposed by alerts, nor can software development and testing teams analyze each alert. These teams get a high number of alerts and it requires time to investigate each alert. When time-constrained teams continuously receive a high number of alerts, they are more likely to experience alert fatigue and focus on instances where there is a clear issue that needs to be resolved. 

False positives increase the likelihood that internal security teams will miss important security events because they believe them to be invalid or simply see too many alerts to investigate each one. False negatives are similarly problematic, because they show that no vulnerability or security issue is present when there actually is a problem that needs to be addressed. 

While some number of false positives will be investigated to verify that they do not, in fact, pose a threat to the organization, false negatives are less likely to be investigated as test results appear to indicate that the software is functioning as intended. Both false positives and false negatives can pose a threat to security teams and the organizations they protect.

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