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The Biggest Security Breaches of 2021 and What We Can Learn from Them

The Biggest Security Breaches of 2021 and What We Can Learn from Them
Written by publishing team

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned out to be more than an attack on human life. It has also been the cause of a significant increase in the number of cyber attacks and security breaches. With a modern remote workforce and a lack of proper protection for thousands of businesses around the world, the environment was poised to be taken advantage of by cybercriminals. They did just that. according to Reports Released by the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), the number of data breaches as of September 30, 2021 exceeded the total number of incidents in the full year (fiscal year) 2020 by 17%. Between politically motivated hacks and disruptive attacks on supply chains, cybersecurity has become a household word that affects almost everyone.

Here’s a report on the 8 biggest security breaches of the year.

1. Volkswagen data breach

Volkswagen reported a data breach by an unauthorized third party in June. Impacting more than 3.3 million customers, an email file left unlocked by the marketing vendor was the reason behind the breach. The file contained customer data used for sales and marketing purposes spanning from 2014 to 2019. The hacker was identified by the alias “000” and wanted to sell the contents of the database for approximately $5,000. The leaked information consisted of names, postal addresses, cell phone numbers, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, tax ID numbers, and models of vehicles purchased/rented/inquired.

2. SocialArk data breach

SocialArks, the China-based platform that drives marketing, brand building and social customer management, suffered a massive data breach in January. The leak stemmed from a cloud configuration error that exposed 318 million records consisting of 400 GB of public and private profile data – including the profiles of celebrities and influencers – for 214 million social media users from around the world.

All exposed data was obtained from users’ Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn profiles and contained their names, country of residence, contact information, work position, subscriber data and direct links to their profiles. The attack was initiated by a vulnerability in their ElasticSearch database that exposed their server without any usernames or passwords to protect the data it stored.

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3. Kaseya ransomware attack

In July 2021, security software and IT management company Kaseya was attacked by ransomware by the Russian hacker organization REvil that demanded $70 million. The company’s Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) solution was targeted due to a SQL vulnerability that left nearly 1,500 companies – including schools, hospitals and a Swedish supermarket chain – affected by the attack.

Hackers used a zero-day exploit to bypass authentication protocols and execute arbitrary commands in Kaseya Virtual System Administrator. Then, a malicious payload was injected into their clients’ systems through a fake software update. Up to 1 million systems have been encrypted and held for ransom.

4. ParkMobile data breach

ParkMobile cashless parking app suffered a data breach in March which resulted in the personal information of its users being compromised. The hack was due to a security flaw in a third-party software integration that resulted in important customer data such as phone numbers, email addresses, license plate numbers, vehicle nicknames, and addresses of 21 million customers leaked and sold in the dark web. Although hackers had access to the encrypted passwords, the encryption keys needed to read the passwords were not.

5. Colonial pipeline ransomware attack

image source: istockphoto

In April, Colonial Pipeline, a hub fuel provider, was hit by a ransomware attack that disrupted the gas supply chain. A hacking organization called DarkSide targeted the company’s billing system and internal business network and stole nearly 100 gigabytes of data.

The company’s old VPN system lacked multi-factor authentication that made it easy to access with a single password without the need for a second-step script or email verification to keep hackers out once the password was discovered. The ransomware attack shut down the line for several days leading to higher gasoline prices, fuel shortages and panic buying.

6. Android data breach

In May, the personal data of more than 100 million Android users was exposed due to various configuration errors in third-party cloud services. Personal information was found in unsecured real-time databases used by 23 apps, download numbers ranging from 10,000 to 10 million. Anyone can access all sensitive data – names, email address, chat messages, date of birth, gender, photos, location, passwords, phone numbers, push information and push notifications. The reason for this breach was misconfigured cloud services – something that a large company like Google can be vulnerable to.

7. T-Mobile data breach

Telecom giant T-mobile was hit by a data breach that compromised the personal information of nearly 54 million people, in August. There were two batches of exposed data. The first consisted of customers’ Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, and driver’s licenses while the second contained customers’ IMEI and IMSI numbers. The hacker responsible for the attack gained access to T-Mobile’s internal infrastructure through an unsecured router.

What can we learn from these data breaches?

Enforce endpoint protection

Businesses need to properly identify and secure all of their devices and systems with endpoint protection. They should also monitor every device connected to their network.

Check external sellers

Before partnering with third-party vendors, companies must ensure whether or not they are legitimate and trustworthy. Access controls for third-party software within organizations must be frequently monitored and maintained.

Encryption of sensitive data and use of RBAC

It is essential that sensitive data is encrypted and stored in secure locations. Companies need to control who can access sensitive data. Critical data access control includes both physical and digital access to systems and data. All systems and physical spaces must be protected with multiple layers of security and access to them must be accessible only to authorized individuals.

Keep systems up to date

Organizations should perform system scans regularly to detect vulnerabilities and install patches automatically.

Security training for employees, partners and users

Companies must ensure that their employees and users make safe decisions online and take responsibility for their cybersecurity situation. It is important for organizations to screen all their current and potential employees. They should also enforce effective training for their employees to teach them best security practices as well as ways to minimize harm when a breach occurs.


Using multi-factor authentication is critical to keeping users safe – whether it’s end users or employees. It is easy to implement, and is one of the strongest safeguards against any attack.


Data breaches are always a question of when, not if, because they can happen due to a variety of attack vectors where each one is just as dangerous as the other. Companies must stay ahead of attackers to protect user information and other sensitive data. This article highlights some of the major violations that occurred this year while also serving as a guide to learn from.

Featured image source: istockphoto

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