Data Security Risks in 2021: A Top 20 List

It doesn’t matter how big or small your business is; data security risks are a real concern. An attack could incapacitate your business and cost massive amounts of money to restore your operations.

According to research, the amount of data breaches that businesses experience has gone up by more than 50% in the past year. A data breach can set a business back by up to $4 million on average.

This shows that data security can significantly affect a business’ bottom line and its ability to operate. Protecting one’s enterprise from data breaches should be a top priority for business owners, especially in 2021.

Top Data Security Risks

2021 comes with its own set of unique challenges. It includes the following 20 data security risks that you should look out for.

1. Exhausted IT Admins

Ask any IT admin professional and they’ll tell you that protecting a company from data security risks and similar security threats is becoming more difficult by the year.

It only takes one mistake or loophole for your business to take a hit. Meanwhile, IT professionals must constantly work to ensure that there are no vulnerabilities for hackers to exploit. This might explain why a growing number of cybersecurity professionals are jumping ship and retiring earlier than ever.

This leaves holes in most companies’ IT departments, which leads to data security risks that make way to security attacks.

2. Data Theft by Employees

There’s no denying that your employees are probably the most important asset in your company. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to operate smoothly and provide the products or services that you promise to customers.

However, employees are people and as such, they can make mistakes. It’s not uncommon for employees to place companies at stake by making costly mistakes that compromise the company’s privacy and security. Sometimes, former employees will even purposefully steal the company data of their former employer. This is done to deliberately hurt the company.

The Canadian credit union serves as a timely cautionary tale in this regard. A former employee of this agency deliberately stole the personal data of millions of customers in June 2019.

3. Data Exposure

The most common type of data breach is one that’s inflicted by skilled hackers who leverage their skills to exploit existing vulnerabilities in your system. But, a security breach can also happen accidentally.

For example, a recent Shred-it study reports that almost half of small business owners and senior executives admit to negligence being at the core of their security mishaps.

Sometimes security breaches happen from within and are almost impossible to predict. A good example of this is the story of an Australian government contractor. He released a classified internal spreadsheet by accident, revealing confidential information that could place certain stakeholders’ privacy at risk.

4. Phishing Scams

Microsoft recently did an analysis of phishing scams and found that they went up by 250% in a year. Not only that, but cybercriminals are now using more complex techniques that make it almost impossible to see them coming.

This includes flooding company emails with phishing emails as bait. In this case, it only takes a single employee opening the email to set off the attack.

5. Careless Digital Communication

At this point, we cannot live without digital communication and it’s an integral part of our daily lives. However, it can also be an Achilles heel for companies who want to keep their customers’ information private.

Unfortunately, it’s quite common for employees to utilize personal devices to deliver customer information. This is all without realizing that they could be placing the company in jeopardy.

For example, one survey shows that almost 30% of team members in the healthcare industry admit to using personal devices to discuss confidential patient information.

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6. Bribery

It’s unfortunate to report that employees have also been known to take bribes from cybercriminals in exchange for private company information. This recently happened to Amazon in 2018. Several employees had taken part in a data theft bribery scheme.

Not long after that, AT&T also revealed a similar scheme among its employees. They had taken bribes in order to introduce malware into the company’s network. All this was done to steal confidential operational data.

Although bribing schemes are not as common or as cutting edge as other cybersecurity threats, they remain one of many data security risks to hardworking business operators.

7. Network Ransomware

It was reported that ransomware attacks led to several local municipalities in the U.S. to suffer infrastructure malfunctions. This type of attack can also affect small business owners as well. Unfortunately, it costs a fortune to recover from this type of attack.

8. Data Ransomware

Hackers have developed various income streams from data theft. This includes multiple opportunities to sell the information on the dark web.

But, even more savvy is to sell it back to the company that they stole it from. Criminals do this by holding the information hostage. Then they give the company an ultimatum that they can only get the data back by paying a certain amount in ransom.

These types of attacks are known as ransomware attacks. They’ve spiked by 500% over the past year while posing a serious risk for companies, government agencies, and institutions alike.

9. Privileged Users

In addition to filtering information so that it’s only available to a select few employees, it’s also important to supervise employees at different clearance levels. This helps to create accountability in a way that protects data privacy within the company.

10. Low-Paid Employees

One of the most common reasons why employees steal company data is to bridge the income gap. Most people simply feel like they’re not earning enough to satisfy all of their needs. That’s why they look for shortcuts to try and make extra cash on the side.

Instead of starting a side hustle, some people are willing to trade company data under the table in exchange for bribes.

A recent UK study found that 15% of the interviewed employees said they were willing to sell company information for $135 to $1,260.

11. Publicly Accessible Data

Companies should always strive to limit the availability of information to a few team members at a time. Filtering information in this way can go a long way to protecting against data security risks.

Unfortunately, most companies are too trusting and are apt to allow every employee a seat at the table. This becomes their downfall, as making company information available to all employees can significantly increase the risk of experiencing a data breach.

12. Phishing Campaigns

If you thought phishing campaigns were bad, wait till you hear about spear-phishing campaigns. This is basically a phishing attack. The cybercriminal leverages data that they stone in the past to generate authentic-looking emails that are near impossible to stop.

Case in point, a city of Naples employee was hoodwinked into paying a $700,000 invoice to a bogus account as a result of a targeted spear phishing campaign.

The bad news is that this type of attack is only set to intensify. This is because online data sharing makes it even easier to acquire personal or company data.

13. Bored Employees

A Data Breach Investigation Report by Verizon shows that over 20% of data breaches happen as a result of employee boredom. The culprits who were interviewed report that participating in a privacy-violating or cybersecurity event was fun and exciting.

This just goes to show that most companies don’t educate their employees about the ramifications of data breaches and the importance of data security because it’s simply not a top priority for them.

14. Hackers

A credit card company called Capital One suffered a major security setback in July of 2019 when they experienced a data breach that cost them hundreds of millions of records.

The instigator behind the breach was a hacker who seemingly just wanted a good time and bragging rights for pulling the whole thing off.

It’s quite disconcerting to point out that a lot of data breaches nowadays happen because cybercriminals want to show off their skills to their compatriots, without realizing that they’re costing businesses millions of dollars in sometimes irreparable damage.

15. Cybersecurity Priorities

Small businesses are often the most affected by data security risks because they don’t take cybersecurity seriously.

Keep Security conducted a study which showed that over 60% of small business owners don’t believe that a data infraction will happen to them, despite being presented with statistics that show the opposite.

16. Founders Access to Company Data

At the top of the information pyramid in any company are the founders, and this doesn’t become an issue until they become disgruntled with the company and decide to leave or step down.

Due to their privileged access to company data, these top-tier users represent a huge vulnerability to companies and unfortunately, it’s a difficult one to forecast.

17. Password Fraud

An online report shows that data breaches often happen due to poorly guarded credentials and passwords. This includes email addresses that cybercriminals can use to create ever more diabolical schemes.

18. Simple Passwords

Google recently did a study that showed that 1.5% of the login credentials that people use to access internet platforms get stolen. These credentials are later used by cybercriminals to inflict harm on those very same users using the IT structure of certain companies.

That’s why it’s important for companies to educate their employees about the importance of proper password use and to practice online security best practices.

19. Data Theft for Career Purposes

Another increasingly common threat to cybersecurity comes in the form of employees who steal company data in order to get a leg up in the job market.

20. Giving Up

Dealing with modern cybersecurity threats can be an exhausting exercise because there’s no shortage of new and extreme ways to suffer a data breach. Unfortunately, most companies choose to give up without a fight because they believe that it’s a foregone conclusion.

The truth is that there is plenty you can do to protect your organization or even your own personal information from cybercriminals. Don’t leave your information out there for everyone to see. Hire the right IT professionals who’re passionate about their work. You should also implement a sound security strategy that accounts for all the possible risks.


While you cannot control, when and if you’ll get attacked, you can manage data security risks. You can do this by fortifying your defenses against this growing threat. Something as simple as using a VPN like IPVanish can do wonders. It can protect you from data theft and many other forms of cybercrime.

Did you find this article helpful? Sound off in the comments below and tell us how you plan to protect your business or organization from these cyberattacks!


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