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Data Breaches: what is it and what are our obligations?

Data Breaches: what is it and what are our obligations?


Data Breaches: what is it and what are our obligations?

May 12, 2022

In the last four years, we have been bombarded with alerts about data breaches. But what is a data breach and what are our data protection obligations once a breach occurs?

According to article 4(12) of the GDPR, a personal data breach is a breach of security leading to the accidental or unlawful destruction, loss, alteration, unauthorized disclosure of, or access to, personal data transmitted, stored, or otherwise processed.

This broad definition of a data breach means that it encompasses all three pillars of security (Confidentiality – Integrity – Availability). However, it is not always easy to identify if a security incident is a personal data breach. This is why categorizing the incident can help to identify whether it is a breach or not.

Let’s talk about the principle of CIA:
There are 3 different types of breaches that we must be aware of, which can be referred to as the CIA principle. There are two well-known breaches that are easy to identify; Confidentiality breach and Integrity Breach. A Confidentiality Breach is where the data is accessed or disclosed to an unauthorized person whilst an Integrity Breach is where the data is altered by an unauthorised person so that it is no longer accurate or complete.
However, there is a third type of breach that is harder to identify: an Availability Breach. This type of breach is where the data is no longer accessible or usable on demand by an authorized entity either temporally or definitively.

Over the past few years, the digital transformation in the healthcare sectors has been faster than ever. Paper-based systems have been replaced by electronic health records, with more and more clinical trials collecting data from e-systems and/or recording it in electronic database. Medical web-based smart devices have been developed to improve diagnosis and treatment. All of these developments have the clear aim to help save patients’ lives or make them far more comfortable. However, this expansion of e-connected systems also opens doors to attackers. Personal data breaches are widely observed in the healthcare sector because health data is more valuable on the black market than any other data including financial data.

In April 2022, the CNIL fined Dedalus Biologie, a company that markets software solutions for medical analysis laboratories, 1,5 millions of euros. They had a massive data leak concerning nearly 500,000 people which was revealed in the press. The breach included family name, first name, social security number, name of the prescribing doctor, date of the examination, but also and above all medical information (HIV, cancers, genetic diseases and data, pregnancies, drug treatments followed by the patient) of the people, and it was disseminated on the Internet.

This is one example among thousands. Data breaches have been increasing over the recent years. In fact, in its last survey regarding GDPR fines and data breaches, DLA Piper published that there have been over 130,000 personal data breaches notified to regulators. For perspective, that is an average of 356 breach notifications per day, an 8% increase on last year’s daily average of 331 notifications per day.

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Laure Baccauw

Laure Baccauw

Data Protection Manager


Anastassia Negrouk

DPO & Chief Operating Officer

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