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Data breach and data leak are terms that you might bump into every now and then. They sound so similar that they can be easily be confused for one another. After all, both mean that someone has gained access to information they were not authorized to see. But is there a difference between the two terms? Yes.

The difference between data leak and data breach lies in how they happen

Data breach happens when there is a deliberate and forceful attack against a web service, a company or an organization. The attack is carried out with intention to steal data. More and more data breaches occur all the time, and they are a profitable business for cyber criminals. The biggest breaches can include billions of records of personal information.

Data leak is when there is no actual attack. Could be that someone happens to find a weakness that already was there. Or a company handled information poorly, and it ended up being compromised due to inadequate security practices. Data leak can be a result of an accident as well. But in the end, data is compromised.

Or as Olli Bliss, Business Development Manager here at F-Secure explains, think of it as noticing in the morning that your car is gone. “In the case of a data breach, that would have meant that somebody came over to your car, smashed the window, hot-wired the car and left with your vehicle. Data leak, on the other hand, would have been that you forgot your keys in the ignition, and you even left the doors open. So somebody happened to walk by your car and tried the door handle, and realized you had the keys in the ignition and drove off with your car.” In the end, your car ends up being stolen in both cases.

The threat for you is the same either way

The situation is the same with data breaches and data leaks. Your data has been compromised, whether it happened through a breach or a leak. Stolen data can lead into account takeover and even identity theft. The next thing you need to do is to make sure that whatever information was stolen, it can’t be used against you. For example, if your credit card information got compromised, you might want to freeze your card.

Often it’s user credentials what is compromised in a breach or a leak. And it’s not a minor inconvenience, as explained in this article. If your passwords get stolen in a data breach or a leak, you can still act before it’s too late. It’s possible that whoever has access to your data in, hasn’t yet used your password to take over your account. Changing your compromised passwords immediately can save you a lot of trouble.

Here’s how you can prepare yourself against data leaks and breaches

From the user’s point of view, it’s not very essential how the data gets stolen. When the data is stolen in a breach or a leak, there’s nothing you could have done to prevent that from happening. However, you can make it harder for criminals to use your data.

Use unique and strong passwords

Using the same or few passwords everywhere endangers all your user accounts when your password gets compromised. Web criminals are well-aware that most people reuse their passwords. When they successfully steal one, they will try it on many user accounts. When you use unique passwords, they can’t access your other accounts. You can find more on this topic from this blog post. Store your passwords in a password manager for easy access and easier remembering.

Use 2-factor authentication

2-factor authentication is a second barrier in addition to your password that protects your user account. It makes it a lot harder for criminals to use stolen user credentials. Read more about 2-factor authentication and how you can enable it from this blog post


F-Secure ID PROTECTION is a handy password manager. You can store and create unique and strong passwords and access them from any device. You can also use it to autofill your passwords when needed. Not only that, ID PROTECTION monitors your personal information online. When a service you use gets breached or a data leak is detected, you will receive an alert with expert guidance on what to do next. Try it for free, with no credit card required! >>

Watch Olli Bliss’ expert answer to the question from the video below.


Luciano Mondragon

03.12.20 3 min. read



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