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Data Exfiltration and How to Prevent it – A Detailed Explanation

Written by Anuraag Singh ~ Modified: 26-06-2023 ~ Cyber Awareness ~ 6 Minutes Reading

data exfiltration

Cybersecurity is the key issue that many organisations are now dealing with. According to news reports, the rates of cyberattacks are increasing constantly. But, the prime concern is that cybercriminals are compromising the organisation’s sensitive data through data exfiltration. Therefore, protecting sensitive data should be a top priority for organisations. 

Anyway, today we’ll talk about data exfiltration. You must be aware of this potential attack because it represents one of the major hazards to businesses.

What is Data Exfiltration?

The theft or unlawful removal or transport of any data from a device is a common definition of data exfiltration. It often entails a cybercriminal using numerous hacking techniques to take data from private or business devices, like PCs and mobile phones.

Data exportation and extrusion, data leakage, and data theft are additional terms for this cyber threat. And, it can cause significant issues for enterprises. However, Information security issues can result in data loss, which could harm an organisation’s brand and bottom line.

data exfiltration

How Does Data Exfiltration Take Place?

Data exfiltration can occur in two ways: through outside threats and internal threats. Both of these pose significant risks.

An intrusion into a network by a person looking to steal business information and maybe user credentials constitutes an attack from outside the firm. This often happens as a result of a cybercriminal installing malware onto a device that is connected to a corporate network, such as a computer or smartphone.

Outsider threats: – When an attacker infiltrates a network to steal sensitive data and user passwords, it is considered an attack from outside the firm. A cybercriminal will frequently do this by installing malware on a computer or smartphone that is linked to a corporate network.

The threat actor extract data and send to a remote server that is under the control of an outsider, then the attacker may sell it or publish it. 

Insider threat:- When an insider moves data outside of the network, such as by emailing it to a personal or non-work address or copying it to an unsafe cloud storage service or software-as-a-service (SaaS) product, this is known as data exfiltration. However, by removing the data from the security team’s and the company’s policies, they put it at risk. Employees who are merely trying to do their duties often carry out these actions.

Different Techniques Through Which Criminals Perform Data Exfiltration  

Cybercriminals use numerous methods for stealing confidential data. Let’s discuss it below.

1. Outbound emails

Attackers use permitted telecommunications infrastructures, including company phones or business email accounts, to send sensitive data through outgoing mail from secure computers to non-secured private systems. However, The details can be communicated via email with plain text, text message with a file attachment, or both. Therefore, this method is most frequently used to steal source code, calendar information, pictures, financial projections, databases, and corporate correspondence.

2. Uploads to external devices

This approach typically entails downloading private data to local infrastructure. The user then sends such data to a third party using a web browser client or another unrestricted piece of software. A third-party service could appear innocent, like a social network, where someone might unintentionally paste the incorrect text or upload the incorrect image.

3. Social engineering and phishing attacks

One of the main methods used by malevolent outsiders to spread malware and steal data is through phishing emails. In this case, attackers pose as reputable senders to make their emails look real. As a result, users are more likely to click on a link or download an attachment that exposes the organisation’s system to malware or other harmful software. 

Apart from that, attackers may undertake targeted phishing attempts in order to gain login information from a specific user, such as senior corporate officials. Once the attackers dupe the victim into supplying their login information, then they utilize that information to hijack the account, obtain insider access, and ultimately exfiltrate data.

4. Human error and non-secured behavior in the cloud

Additional exfiltration hazards brought on by cloud services include situations in which administrators or workers make unauthorized use of the provider’s features. Data exfiltration is possible for every player with the capacity to deploy code, alter virtual machines (VMs), or send requests to cloud storage. Furthermore, those who have sufficient access can develop illegal services on behalf of the company or transmit data from secure containers to unsecured ones.

It’s important to be aware of the additional exfiltration dangers brought on by cloud services, such as situations in which administrators or staff members misuse the provider’s features. Data exfiltration is possible for any actor who has access to cloud storage, the capacity to change virtual machines (VMs), and the ability to deploy programs. Actors with adequate access rights can also build unauthorized services on behalf of the firm or transmit data from secure containers to insecure ones.

5. Downloads to insecure devices

These scenarios happen when a user transfers data from a secure local device to an unauthorized local device. To exfiltrate data, for instance, someone could utilize cameras, computers, smartphones, or other specialized equipment, either downloading already-existing files from cloud services or transferring the data into fresh files. Data exfiltration is a serious threat to any files sent to an unsecured device.

How to Prevent Data Exfiltration from Happening?

Detecting data exfiltration is very difficult, especially, when the exfiltration technique used by attacker is one that resembles normal network traffic.

However, you can follow some simple measures to prevent the attacker from stealing your organization’s sensitive data. Such as:

  1. Block unapproved communication channels 
  2. Educate your employees
  3. Check network traffic and employee computer activity for high-risk and unusual conduct.
  4. To prevent unwanted data transfers, disable USB devices.
  5. Only grant staff access and authority necessary for their roles.


A strong combination of data loss prevention solutions, cyber security training, user activity monitoring and an in-depth understanding of internal vulnerabilities is necessary to avoid data exfiltration. You can reduce the dangers of this cyber threat by following the advice in this article. 

However, if you want professional help to mitigate any kind of cyberattack then you can consult with India’s top cyber expert Anuraag Singh. Having 15+ years of experience in the cybersecurity field, he can guide you better to stay safe from probable cyber attacks.