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May 11, 2024
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 min read

Data Exfiltration

Learn types of data exfiltration, insider risks and how to prevent data exfiltration

Data Exfiltration
Calendar Icon White
May 11, 2024
Clock Icon
 min read

Data Exfiltration

Learn types of data exfiltration, insider risks and how to prevent data exfiltration



  • Data exfiltration poses a significant risk to organizations in today's interconnected world.
  • It involves unauthorized transfer of sensitive information through various methods.
  • Prevention strategies include monitoring outbound data transmissions, restricting uploads/downloads, and implementing remediation actions like redaction, masking, blocking.
  • Strac offers a comprehensive solution for detecting and preventing data exfiltration.
  • Measures such as redaction, encryption, and access controls are crucial in safeguarding sensitive data.

In today’s interconnected world, the threat of data exfiltration poses a significant risk to organizations across all industries. Data exfiltration involves the unauthorized transfer of sensitive information from a computer or network to external locations. This can occur through malicious intent, inadvertent actions by employees, or systemic security vulnerabilities. Effective prevention strategies are essential to protect organizational assets and maintain compliance with regulatory requirements.

What is Data Exfiltration?

Data exfiltration refers to the unauthorized copying, transfer, or retrieval of data from a system without the owner's permission. This can be executed by cybercriminals, disgruntled employees, or even through automated malware processes. The data involved typically includes trade secrets, customer information, personal employee details, and other proprietary content.

Data Exfiltration 1: Outbound Mail

In scenarios involving outbound mail, authorized users might use telecommunications infrastructure, such as business email or mobile devices, to send sensitive information from secure systems to untrusted third parties or insecure systems. This sensitive data could be transmitted as plain text, an email, a text message, or as an attached file. Commonly, this method is employed to exfiltrate organizational emails, calendars, databases, images, planning documents, business forecasts, and source code.

Many messaging systems allow saving drafts to the cloud, making it crucial to monitor data even before it is sent. Utilizing the draft-saving feature, a user could circumvent traditional logging and auditing systems by accessing these drafts from a different client.

               Strac Endpoint DLP: Scan Outgoing Email, If Sensitive, Remediate via Blocking, Alerting or Approval

Prevention and Mitigation:

  • Implement monitoring to observe the volume and frequency of data transmissions via email and other communication tools. Significant deviations from the norm, such as a user transmitting unusually large data volumes, should trigger an alert.
  • Maintain detailed logs of email addresses, devices used for sending emails, and recipient addresses to help pinpoint potential exfiltration events.
  • Scan outgoing messages from systems holding sensitive data to ensure they do not contain unauthorized information. Employ content tagging with keywords or hashes to facilitate this process.
  • Enforce secure communication protocols and alert IT security personnel about any attempts to transmit data over insecure channels.

Data Exfiltration 2: Uploads to External Services

This event often involves data first being downloaded to local infrastructure and then uploaded to a third-party service via web browsers or other software. These third-party services could range from innocuous-seeming websites like social networks to more sophisticated platforms that could extract sensitive information like user credentials.

Prevention and Mitigation:

  • Implement and enforce policies that prevent the downloading of data, keeping all sensitive information within Strac’s cloud environment and governed by secure API interactions.
  • Restrict the installation of potentially insecure third-party software on devices that access sensitive data.
  • Use a CASB to monitor and control data flow from cloud access points, ensuring that all data transmitted to clients is encrypted.

               Strac CASB: Block and Alert when a sensitive file is shared over the internet

Data Exfiltration 3: Downloads to Insecure Devices

This category covers incidents where users access sensitive data through authorized means and then transfer it to insecure devices such as laptops, smartphones, or external drives. The risk of data exfiltration increases significantly if these files are moved to unmonitored or insecure devices.

Prevention and Mitigation:

  • In environments like Strac’s cloud services, transferring data to a local device generally requires a physical connection to transferable media. If the data resides in the cloud, it needs to be downloaded before it can be transferred, allowing the use of security features of the hosting service to monitor these actions.
  • Establish strict policies to prohibit the download of highly sensitive data and to keep all data in the cloud, utilizing Strac’s secured interactions and API calls for data handling.
  • Utilize a Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) to manage connections between clients and cloud services, ensuring adherence to organizational security policies.
  • Apply Digital Rights Management (DRM) to files, embedding them with security that manages permissions and encrypts content.

Data Exfiltration 4: Insecure Cloud Behavior

Using cloud services introduces new potential risks for data exfiltration through actions taken by employees, users, or administrators that compromise security. These actions might include inappropriate use of virtual machines, deploying code insecurely, or improperly handling requests to storage or computing services.

Prevention and Mitigation:

  • Strac’s cloud services require maintaining strict, narrowly scoped permissions and comprehensive logging to ensure secure operations.
  • Limit access to backend services, utilizing automated agents and secure frontend clients to reduce the number of people with direct access to your cloud infrastructure.
  • For critical operations, implement network configurations that restrict outgoing connections to unknown addresses and use bastion hosts to manage and monitor access.

Data Exfiltration 5: Identification and Redaction of Sensitive Data

Identifying sensitive data is a critical first step in managing security. Once data is pinpointed, it can be more effectively safeguarded through access controls and techniques aimed at reducing its sensitivity, such as redaction, masking, or de-identification. When data is transformed into a less sensitive form, it no longer explicitly reveals personal identifiers like social security numbers, credit card details, or Personally Identifiable Information (PII).

The challenge of redacting large and diverse data sets is addressed by Strac through automated systems capable of recognizing, classifying, and suitably modifying data. This automated oversight extends to managing how data is shared, where it is stored, and when to raise alerts about sensitive data movements.

Prevention and Mitigation:

Strac Sensitive Data Discovery and Classification empower organizations to understand and control their sensitive data efficiently. This system provides rapid, scalable classification and optional redaction of sensitive data types such as credit card numbers, personal identifiers, and other sensitive details. Sensitive Data Management supports a range of data formats from text to images and can be directed at data held in Strac Vault. The insights derived from these tools can directly inform IAM configurations, data residency considerations, and other compliance needs, assisting in data minimization and adherence to strict privacy standards through methods like masking, encryption, and tokenization.

               Strac DLP: Identify and Redact Sensitive Data in Customer Tickets

Data Exfiltration 6: Rogue Administrators

By nature, most computer systems provide substantial control to designated administrators. If these administrators become malicious or compromised, they possess extensive capabilities to exploit the system and may also erase any logs of their actions. Mitigating these risks requires a balanced distribution of authority and robust oversight mechanisms.

Prevention and Mitigation:

To minimize the risks posed by rogue administrators, Strac enforces a policy where significant administrative powers are fragmented and closely monitored:

  • Implement logging of all administrative actions in secure locations that administrators cannot alter.
  • Admin access should be temporary and time-limited, reducing the need for permanent access credentials.
  • Require collaborative approval for critical administrative tasks, treating them similarly to code reviews in software development.

               Strac Sensitive Data Discovery: Who Has Access to What Data, how much data, etc.

Data Exfiltration 7: Employee Terminations

Research, such as the 2011 study by the Computer Emergency Response Team at Carnegie Mellon University, indicates that the risk of data exfiltration increases when employees face imminent termination. This period requires heightened security measures.

Prevention and Mitigation:

For highly sensitive networks, it is advisable to integrate HR systems with security monitoring tools to flag the heightened risk from employees who are about to be terminated. Adjustments to monitoring thresholds can help preempt and mitigate potential security breaches during these critical periods.

Data Exfiltration 8: Copying of Data on USB

Data exfiltration through USB devices involves the unauthorized copying and removal of sensitive information from a company's network to portable storage devices. USB drives, due to their small size, ease of use, and large storage capacity, are particularly vulnerable to misuse. Such actions can be perpetrated by insiders who have legitimate access to the data or by external attackers who have gained physical access to the network. This method of data theft bypasses traditional network security measures and can be executed without leaving an immediate digital trace, making it a discreet and effective tactic for stealing confidential information.

Prevention and Mitigation:

Preventing or mitigating USB data exfiltration requires a comprehensive approach that includes both technological solutions and stringent policy enforcement. Technological measures include deploying Data Loss Prevention (DLP) software that monitors and restricts data transfer to unauthorized devices. Additionally, organizations can physically disable USB ports or implement strict device control policies that allow only approved USB devices to connect to the network. Regular security audits and employee training are also crucial to raise awareness about the risks associated with USB data theft and to reinforce adherence to security policies. For more detailed strategies on implementing effective USB blocking measures, refer to Strac's blog on USB Blocking and Data Loss Prevention.

               Strac: Protect Copying of Files on USB via Encryption

How Strac can help with all the above Data Exfiltrations?

‎Strac offers a comprehensive SaaS/Cloud and Endpoint DLP & CASB solution equipped with modern capabilities:

  1. Built-In & Custom Detectors: Strac features detectors for sensitive data related to PCI, HIPAA, GDPR, and other confidential information. Uniquely, Strac allows for customization, enabling customers to set up their own data detectors. It stands alone in the market with its ability to detect and redact images (JPEG, PNG, screenshots) and perform deep content inspections on document formats such as PDFs, Word documents (DOC, DOCX), Excel spreadsheets (XLSX), and ZIP files. Explore Strac’s extensive catalog of sensitive data elements.
  2. Compliance Assurance: Strac's DLP functionality supports compliance with critical standards like PCI, SOC 2HIPAAISO-27001CCPA, GDPR, and NIST frameworks.
  3. Ease of Integration: Customers can integrate with Strac in less than 10 minutes, enabling immediate access to DLP, live scanning, and live redaction within their SaaS applications.
  4. Accurate Detection and Redaction: Employing custom machine learning models trained on PII, PHI, PCI, and other confidential data, Strac ensures high accuracy with minimal false positives and negatives.
  5. Extensive SaaS and Cloud Integrations: Strac boasts a broad and deep array of integrations with SaaS and Cloud services. Discover all Strac integrations here: Strac Integrations
  6. AI Integration: Beyond traditional integrations, Strac seamlessly works with LLM APIs and AI websites like ChatGPT, Google Bard, and Microsoft Copilot, enhancing the security of AI or LLM applications and protecting sensitive data. Learn more in the Strac Developer Documentation.
  7. Endpoint DLP: Strac provides a unique, accurate, and comprehensive DLP solution that covers SaaS, Cloud, and Endpoint scenarios. Learn more about Endpoint DLP here: Strac Endpoint DLP
  8. API Support: Strac offers APIs that allow developers to detect or redact sensitive data efficiently. Explore the Strac API Docs: Strac API Documentation
  9. Inline Redaction: Strac has the capability to redact (mask or blur) sensitive text directly within any attachment.
  10. Customizable Configurations: Strac offers ready-to-use compliance templates that detect and redact sensitive data elements, along with adaptable configurations to meet specific organizational needs, ensuring that data protection measures are precisely aligned with individual requirements.

               Strac SaaS, Cloud and Endpoint Integrations

Founder, Strac. ex-Amazon Payments Infrastructure (Widget, API, Security) Builder for 11 years.

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