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Updated: Feb 9, 2024   |   Alex Yong

How to protect your company from data exfiltration: Tools, techniques & procedures

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Today’s data-driven business world has made a company’s information its most valuable asset. The effective use of data resources is necessary to maintain efficient operations, address shifting customer trends, and remain competitive with market rivals. 

Losing this valuable information through data exfiltration can be devastating and potentially put a company out of business.

In this article, we’ll examine how to protect your company from data exfiltration and review some of the tools, techniques, and procedures that can help prevent it.

Wh‎at is data exfiltration?

Person transferring data to an eternal hard drive, data exfiltration

Data exfiltration refers to the unauthorized transfer of confidential or sensitive information from an IT environment to an external location. It typically involves the copying or transmission of information without the permission or knowledge of its owners. 

The term is used in association with data breaches initiated by external threat actors as well as data leaks caused by unintentional or malicious internal threats.

Da‎ta exfiltration motivations

Laptop screen showing the transfer of files for data exfiltration

‎The underlying motivation for deliberate data exfiltration is usually some type of financial or competitive gain. A threat actor may be working for an external organization or be an individual hoping to sell the exfiltrated information for profit. 

External forces or malicious insiders initiate exfiltration attempts for multiple reasons including:

  • Simple financial gain by selling stolen data to an interested party
  • Corporate espionage as rivals strive to access and leverage sensitive data and intellectual property to gain a competitive edge
  • Extortion or blackmail by threatening to release embarrassing or damaging information
  • Identity theft by stealing and using personally identifiable information
  • Sabotage by disrupting operations through the release of sensitive or business-critical data

It's important to remember that data exfiltration isn't always done with malicious intent; it can also result from accidental data leaks by trustworthy employees. These unintentional leaks can be just as damaging as a data breach perpetrated by cybercriminals.

Da‎ta exfiltration techniques

Data exfiltration can be performed using a variety of techniques, which complicates efforts to detect and prevent it. Common methods of exfiltrating data from an IT environment include:

  • Embedding malware in the environment
  • Exploiting system or network vulnerabilities
  • Leveraging insufficient cybersecurity measures
  • Conducting social engineering and phishing attacks

To‎‎ols that can help protect your company from data exfiltration

‎‎The variety of methods used for data exfiltration requires a comprehensive approach that usually incorporates a combination of tools from the following categories.

Firewalls and Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS)

Firewalls and intrusion prevention systems form the first line of defense. Their purpose is to prevent external entities from gaining unauthorized access to the environment through its network. These systems do not protect an organization from data exfiltration by threat actors who have already gained access by other means.

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) solutions

DLP platforms identify and protect sensitive and valuable data resources. They perform content and contextual analysis to prevent unauthorized data transmission. A DLP solution offers detection and prevention capabilities that make it an excellent choice for protecting your company from data exfiltration.

Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) platforms

‎An EDR solution concentrates on activities performed on endpoints such as computers, servers, and mobile devices. They can detect and respond to suspicious behavior and unauthorized file transfers to prevent data from being exfiltrated out of the central IT environment.

Network traffic monitoring and analysis tools

Network monitoring tools look for unusual patterns by conducting real-time network analysis. They typically employ artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify suspicious behavior and possible data exfiltration.

Packet capture and analysis tools

Network traffic can be further analyzed with packet capture and analysis tools. Investigating packet contents can identify unauthorized data transmission or unusual patterns that may indicate exfiltration attempts.

De‎‎tect and prevent data exfiltration with a DLP solution

An advanced DLP tool like the Reveal Platform by Next goes beyond simply detecting data exfiltration. Through enforcement of an organization’s data handling policy, Reveal automatically detects and prevents data exfiltration attempts. 

By stopping all unauthorized data transfers, the DLP platform protects your valuable information from accidental leaks and malicious breaches.

Reveal employs next-gen agents powered by machine learning that categorizes data at the point of risk and ensures that all data usage conforms to data handling policies. 

For instance, an attempt to transfer sensitive data in an unencrypted form would be prohibited by the tool, preventing possible data exfiltration.

Reveal also cultivates a security-positive culture by offering user training at the point of risk. When users violate data handling guidelines, the activity is prevented and an instructive message is generated to advise the violator of their transgression. 

Potential exfiltration is therefore prevented, and users gain additional knowledge about how to handle data securely.

Give us a call and schedule a demo to see Reveal in action. Then add it to your existing security stack for more effective protection from data exfiltration.

Fr‎equently asked questions

Why is DLP a superior solution for combatting data exfiltration?

DLP detects and prevents the unauthorized transfer of an organization’s valuable and sensitive data. Security teams may not be able to address alerts generated by monitoring solutions before data can be stolen or moved out of the environment. DLP automatically addresses these concerns for enhanced data security.

Why should my company be concerned with data exfiltration by internal actors?

Companies need to be concerned about data exfiltration by internal actors because of the need to allow a subset of individuals access to sensitive and high-value data. This access is necessary to maintain business operations. 

Malicious insiders can misuse legitimate authorization to steal data resources for personal gain or to disrupt the organization.

Why is the combination of multiple tools recommended to prevent data exfiltration?

Multiple tools offer more comprehensive protection against the many methods of performing data exfiltration. Companies need to minimize risk by keeping intruders out with firewalls and IPS solutions, while also addressing the risks of insiders or external forces that have managed to infiltrate the environment and are in a position to steal valuable information.

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