Data Exfiltration

What Is Data Exfiltration?

Data exfiltration is the unauthorized removal or moving of data from or within digital devices. Data exfiltration can happen in two ways: external or internal attacks.

  • An external attack involves hackers infiltrating a network with malware or another attack vector.
  • Internal data exfiltration usually refers to an employee’s unintentional or negligent act of opening doors to an external actor.
  • Internal attacks will sometimes involve a disgruntled employee or previous employee of the company who abuses their status and steals sensitive company data to sell to unauthorized entities.
Data Exfiltration

Common Data Exfiltration Techniques

  1. Social Engineering and Phishing Attacks

Social engineering attacks are used by hackers to exploit normal human attributes to trick people into sharing information that they otherwise wouldn’t. One common type of social engineering is phishing attacks. Phishing attacks have grown more and more sophisticated. It used to be fairly easy to pinpoint a misspelled word or a badly designed email header. But today, phishing emails look very legitimate and are designed to trick savvy employees into clicking on a link and entering login credentials to access a “legitimate” site. The credentials 

  1. Vulnerability Exploits

Malicious actors exploit known vulnerabilities that remain unpatched. This kind of attack is preventable by having a good vulnerability and patch management strategy in place.

Sometimes, hackers are ahead of the good guys and use Zero-Day vulnerabilities that have not yet been published or patched. Zero-day attacks are harder to prevent, as the vulnerabilities have not made it onto CISA’s Known Exploited Vulnerabilities Catalog. Proactive security strategies like threat intelligence and behavior analysis would be the best way to address this threat. 

Top Vulnerabilities that Cause Data Exfiltration 

  • System misconfigurations and access settings
  • Unsupported or Unpatched software
  • Granting Excessive Privileges
  • Code and Command Injections
    • SQL injections
    • XSS (cross-site scripting)
    • (LDAP Lightweight Directory Access Protocol)
  1. Downloads to Insecure Devices

With the rise of IoT (Internet of Things), digital networks are not confined to computers and traditional network infrastructure. Cameras, mobile phones, and external drives are less monitored with corporate security controls. For that reason, they present a great attack surface for hackers. Unknowing of the risks, an employee may transfer sensitive company data onto an external device. A malicious actor will then access the information more easily than on the main company network, and steal the data.

Data Exfiltration Detection Strategies

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Data Exfiltration Prevention Measures


Encryption encodes information into a format that is useless for malicious actors. In most cases, only authorized parties can decipher encrypted text. For this reason, encryption is an excellent prevention technique for external actors but does little to prevent unauthorized users from covertly using legitimate credentials.

Access Controls

Strong identity and access controls are very important in thwarting data exfiltration attacks. Access rules determine who has access to which data. Multifactor authentication, and network monitoring are important to support Identity and Access control.

Regular Risk Assessments and Penetration Testing

Risk assessments identify potential threats and vulnerabilities that can ultimately cause a data exfiltration attack. Regularly conducting risk assessments and penetration testing can reduce the risk of data exfiltration and other cyber risks.

Zero Trust Security Model

Zero-trust security model means verifying every user and device, regardless of location or network connection. This approach minimizes the potential for unauthorized data exfiltration by requiring authentication and authorization even once users are logged in to the network.

Network segmentation is a component of the Zero Trust security model. It divides the network into isolated segments, limiting lateral movement for attackers. This makes it more challenging for them to traverse the network and exfiltrate data undetected.


Data Loss Prevention solutions give users an in-depth view of data movement across the network. 

Employee Training

Educating employees about the risks of social engineering attacks and the importance of cybersecurity hygiene can significantly reduce the likelihood of successful data exfiltration.

Is Antivirus Software Sufficient for Data Exfiltration Risks?

Antivirus and malware software solutions focus on identifying and mitigating viruses, malware, and other malicious software. However, data exfiltration attacks take forms that may not be addressed by traditional viruses or malware. 

For example, Antivirus software will not be effective in detecting human error insider threats because they involve legitimate user credentials.

Wrapping Things Up

Today, the mindset of “assume breach” is the only realistic way to address data loss prevention. Even the best security strategies will not prevent data exfiltration attacks 100%. To that end, companies will need a mix of preventive practices and strategies like data exfiltration incident response plans to stop an attack once it has already infiltrated and to reduce risk to a minimum.

Start Getting Value With
Centraleyes for Free

See for yourself how the Centraleyes platform exceeds anything an old GRC
system does and eliminates the need for manual processes and spreadsheets
to give you immediate value and run a full risk assessment in less than 30 days

Want to talk to Centraleyes about Data Exfiltration?

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