What is information leakage?

In the field of IT security, data leakage, also known as information leakage or the leaking of sensitive or confidential data, has been occurring more and more frequently over the past few years. But it was as a result of the Wikileaks, starting in 2010, that they gained media attention. We examine what constitutes an information leak and the possible prevention measures.

What is it?

An information leak or Data Leakage is the loss of confidentiality of an organisation, company or individual's information, due to a third party obtaining the information or knowledge of its contents from persons not authorised for this purpose.

Unless the appropriate controls are diligently applied, information can be expected to end up in the hands of undesirable people. Even with the implementation of controls, the risk of data leakage does not disappear.

Data leaks can occur due to internal or external reasons:

  • Internal: caused, for example, intentionally or accidentally by internal staff of the organisation.
  • External: for example, the leaking of employees' personal data from a company due to a security incident at a supplier.

They can also be deliberate or unintentional:

  • Deliberate: confidential data is leaked or disclosed for the purpose of financial gain or to cause damage or harm to organisations: financial penalties, loss of competitive advantage, loss of image or reputation, etc.
  • Unintentional: confidential data is leaked or disclosed accidentally or unintentionally, for example, by not following good data security practices.

Causes of a data breach

The most common cause of data leaks in organisations is the lack or loss of awareness and discipline regarding good practice and security measures for the processing of information. Most of the time they are caused by:

  • not deleting information in the correct way from removable media
  • storing sensitive information on portable devices
  • not encrypting data
  • or the information storage devices ending up in the wrong hands through loss or theft

Consequences of a data leak

Depending on the type of information that is disclosed or leaked, the consequences will vary. For example, the leakage of personal data can result in significant economic losses to organisations either through fines from regulatory agencies or through the loss of customer confidence. If a business secret is disclosed, it may result in the loss of a competitive advantage which in turn may lead to financial damage. In general, information leaks generate the following costs for organisations:

  • Investigation of the incident and corrective measures.
  • Contact with the affected parties to inform them.
  • Penalties and fines from regulatory agencies.
  • Contractual obligations.
  • Costs of compensating those affected.
  • Loss of customer confidence and reputation.

How to prevent data leakage in IT

The main measures to prevent the leakage of confidential data are:

  1. Define procedures for classifying and processing data and implement them.
  2. Training and awareness raising for employees on good data security practices and on the approved procedures for classifying and processing data.
  3. Limit, to the extent possible, the use of removable media for the transport or storage of sensitive information.
  4. Encrypt data held in storage and in transit via unsecured networks.
  5. Establish physical and logical access control measures to the premises where the information is located, to the network, to the information itself and to the systems that support it.
  6. Install DLP systems.

Data leakage or the disclosure of confidential information causes damage to organisations and individuals, including financial losses due to fines, loss of customer confidence, brand reputation, competitive advantages... The risk of their occurrence can be minimised by implementing technical and organisational measures, but, above all, by training and raising the awareness of individuals.


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