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Data breaches vs. leaks – what’s the difference?

Customer data is at the heart of every successful business. It can be used to improve customer service, develop new products and identify user personas to inform marketing and advertising efforts. Your ‘profile’ offers a pretty detailed insight as to who you are, what you like and how a business might be able to profit from you.

However, it’s not just legitimate businesses that want to use your data to make money. Cyber criminals have a vested interest in compromising the data you have shared too. Whether it’s hacking a global brand like British Airways, or taking copies of data leaking from small businesses, your information can be used in a number of ways. So…what’s the difference between a data breach and a data leak?


A data breach is a term used to describe an incident in which secure or private/confidential information is accessed without authorisation. Typically, data breaches occur when cyber criminals carry out attacks that exploit vulnerabilities, either in a technical sense or somewhere within the supply chain. Third-party breaches are an example of the latter and even the most cyber-savvy businesses are at risk of losing data to criminals.

DynaRisk recovers millions of breached records every month. Here’s how:

1. Black hat hackers (see ‘why do hackers do what they do?’ below for more information on black-hat hacking) share lists of breached data they have obtained by breaking into a website. They share the lists on hacker forums (online message boards).  

2. Sometimes they charge other hackers for the data – especially if it contains information sensitive enough to cause real harm. But other times they share it for free. DynaRisk ONLY takes copies of the lists shared for free – we do not pay for data as this is fuelling the criminal industry we are trying to combat.

3. We import the data into our systems, clean out any duplicates and notify our users if we discover a match.


A leak occurs when a company fails to protect a server containing data. By leaving a server unprotected, anyone with the know-how can take a copy of the data without having to attempt a hack into the company’s systems.  

DynaRisk’s intelligence team recovers data from leaking servers because in doing so, we can notify people using our tools that their information was exposed. Without doing this, fraudsters could be taking copies of the data and using the information in the same way they would if they hacked a system to get the information.

When we discover a leaking server, we will always notify the owner so that they can close the leak in a timely manner. In some cases we engage with the company to help them better protect data moving forward.

Why do hackers do what they do?

• Black hats hack their targets for self-serving reasons, such as financial gain, to gain notoriety among their peers, revenge or simply to cause trouble.  

• State-sponsored hackers carry out attacks that have political undertones.

• White hat hackers (sometimes known as ethical hackers) are typically hired to try and hack systems to identify security flaws – this is known as ‘penetration testing’.

Your digital footprint

By using the internet and online services, we provide tonnes of personal, oftentimes sensitive, data to service providers. Understanding how far-reaching your digital footprint might be starts with identifying which companies have your data; have you used any of the following?

• Internet banking

• Online shopping sites

• Streaming sites (Netflix, Now TV, Amazon Prime, Hulu)

• Food delivery services (Just Eat, Deliveroo, Uber Eats)

• Mobile apps

• Email services

• Online gaming/gambling services

• Social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn)


If the answer is yes, you have permitted the use of your:

• Banking information

• Home address

• Email addresses

• Telephone numbers

• Smart device data (such as your location, access to call logs, messages and photos)

• Passwords

• Your gender

• …and more


With this in mind, it’s important to take steps to protect yourself online. Consistently monitoring your email addresses is a good place to start, as well as maintaining good cyber hygiene such as using unique, strong passwords, enabling 2FA where you can and being careful not to engage with phishing emails.

Curious to see if your information has ever been exposed in a breach or leak? Try our free data breach checking tool. And for consistent monitoring as well as your very own cyber dashboard, choose one of our plans.