What Are the Most Common Online Security Breaches?

Whether it’s malware, phishing, theft of login credentials, or other more specialized cyberattacks, more businesses are experiencing online security breaches that leave their organization and employees at risk. Security breaches resulting from cyberattacks can negatively impact day-to-day operations, but also expose sensitive financial and employee data. To help your business mitigate the risk of online security breaches and formulate a strategy to counteract these threats, we’ll outline the most common online security breaches and offer further resources to address these concerns.

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Theft of Passwords or Login Credentials

There’s a reason your IT staff emphasize strong passwords and why more businesses are beginning to mandate certain password protocols among employees (using 12+ characters and multiple fields, for instance). Although passwords can be compromised using more sophisticated methods like phishing, which we’ll discuss later, sometimes a password is simply guessed by applying a user’s street name, birthday, or other obvious possibilities/personal information. This threat is particularly concerning when an employee uses the same password for multiple accounts (whether personal or business-related), risking exposure of a broader range of sensitive data.

Stolen, lost or weak passwords are a common cause of a security breach, so it’s essential to establish best practices for login credentials within your business to minimize this threat.

Malware and Other Viruses

More than any other category of cyberattack, malware is the most extensive, with versions ranging from spyware, worms, keyloggers, viruses (polymorphic and macro), trojans, ransomware, and more. Here, we’ll discuss malicious software attacks more broadly and specifically explore the threats posed by ransomware and keyloggers.

Fundamentally, malware is any program or code that is designed to damage, wipe, or collect data from a computer, device, server, or network. A malware virus could, for instance, wipe sensitive client and employee data from a business’ server and cause a massive and potentially long-term suspension of services for clients. While dealing with the practical implications of this type of attack is hard enough, businesses impacted by a malware attack also deal with the reputational damage that accompanies the loss of sensitive data.


In a ransomware attack, a cybercriminal delivers an automated message indicating that all data on a particular device has been encrypted, made inaccessible to the original user, and can only be re-accessed after receipt of a payment or “fee” (often thousands of dollars). To further escalate the ransomware attack, cybercriminals usually threaten to leak collected data to the public if payment is not received.


Another form of malware called a keylogger can be installed to record everything that is typed on a computer, tablet, smart phone, or another device. Using this recorded data, a cybercriminal can gain access (without the user’s knowledge) to a wide range of sensitive data like passwords, financial information, as well as full names, health information, and more. Similar to a ransomware attack, this information may later be leveraged to solicit payment or to publicly release sensitive business data that could cause reputational damage.

Whether it’s a ransomware attack or keylogger malware, payment of a “ransom fee” to recover exposed data does not prevent a cybercriminal from publicly releasing the acquired data or refusing to return it following payment.

In addition to using anti-malware software and consulting cybersecurity experts, one key internal measure to prevent malware attacks is to instruct employees never to click on unknown links or attachments. This may also require changing protocols with clients: requesting that clients never send emails with attachments, but instead include them in the body of an email to prevent the compromise or erasure of a server, network, computer, or other device. 


Phishing is a more time-consuming and research-intensive type of cyberattack. Through a phishing attack, a cybercriminal uses social engineering techniques to pressure an employee (often in payroll or human resources) to surrender sensitive data, especially passwords, full login credentials, or financial information. 

Often these attacks come from cybercriminals posing as actual company employees via email or phone. They may create a domain and account that looks remarkably similar to the actual employee and employer account, which is known as domain spoofing or email spoofing. In other cases, they are able to hack the company email domain and create a new account (and send messages) within it. If a payroll or HR employee surrenders sensitive financial information – often prompted by a believable and sympathetic request from the cybercriminal posing as an employee – this information can be used to steal employee information, channel payments into third-party bank accounts, or for other damaging purposes.

Our related article offers extensive best practices on how to identify and prevent phishing attacks targeting payroll information.

Distributed Denial-of-Service Attacks

This type of cyberattack is often grievance-based and involves a coordinated attack from multiple sources (and usually multiple individuals) at once. The cybercriminals’ end goal is to make system sign-in impossible for both the employees and clients of a given company, disrupting business until the security breach is addressed. Unfortunately, these types of attacks can sometimes originate from former employees or even competitors, freezing business systems/servers and compromising the reputation of the company. 

Efficient and Secure Payroll with Workforce PayHub

With such a wide range of cyberattacks that can impact business operations, it’s essential to partner with a payroll provider that implements cybersecurity best practices for itself and its clients. At Workforce PayHub, we offer a comprehensive payroll solution that is mobile-friendly, convenient for you and your employees, and standardizes multi-factor authentication and strong password protocols to keep your sensitive data safe and secure.

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Eric Jones
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