Data Breaches Increase, but Data Loss Drops
Data loss through cyber-attacks decreased markedly in 2010, but the total number of breaches was higher than ever, according to Verizon’s "2011 Data Breach Investigations Report." The number of compromised records involved in data breaches investigated by Verizon and the U.S. Secret Service dropped from 144 million in 2009 to only 4 million in 2010, representing the lowest volume of data loss since the report’s launch in 2008. However, this year’s report covers approximately 760 data breaches, the largest caseload to date.
According to the report, the seeming contradiction between the low data loss and the high number of breaches likely stems from a significant decline in large-scale breaches, caused by a change in tactics by cyber-criminals. The report found they are now engaging in small, opportunistic attacks rather than large-scale, difficult attacks and are using relatively unsophisticated methods to successfully penetrate organizations. For example, only three percent of breaches were considered unavoidable without extremely difficult or expensive corrective action.
The report also found that outsiders are responsible for 92 percent of breaches, a significant increase from the 2010 findings. Although the percentage of insider attacks decreased significantly over the previous year (16 percent versus 49 percent), this is largely due to the large increase in smaller external attacks. "As a result, the total number of insider attacks actually remained relatively constant," the report noted.
Hacking (50 percent) and malware (49 percent) were the most prominent types of attack, with many of those attacks involving weak or stolen credentials and passwords. For the first time, physical attacks--such as compromising ATMs--appeared as one of the three most common ways to steal information, and constituted 29 percent of all cases investigated.
"Through our Data Breach Investigations Report series, Verizon continues to provide the industry with a first-hand look at cyber-crime around the globe," said Peter Tippett, Verizon’s vice president of security and industry solutions. "This year, we witnessed highly automated and prolific external attacks, low and slow attacks, intricate internal fraud rings, countrywide device-tampering schemes, cunning social engineering plots and more. And yet, at the end of day, we found once again that the vast majority of breaches can be avoided without extremely difficult, expensive security measures."
The Data Breach Investigation Report (DBIR) series now spans seven years and more than 1,700 breaches involving more than 900 million compromised records. For the second year in a row, the U.S. Secret Service collaborated with Verizon in preparing the report. In addition, the National High Tech Crime Unit of the Netherlands Policy Agency (KLPD) joined the team this year; approximately one-third of Verizon’s cases originated in either Europe or the Asia-Pacific region.
"Americans over the past several years have seen the significant impacts data breaches are having on our nation’s financial infrastructure," said U.S. Secret Service assistant director A.T. Smith. "Today cyber criminals are operating in nearly every civilized nation in the world, exposing Americans’ personal information, either stored or transmitted, to substantial risk."