The 2010 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report has found that breaches of electronic records last year involved more insider threats, greater use of social engineering and the continued strong involvement of organized criminal groups. The study also noted that the overall number of breaches investigated last year declined from the total for the previous year - 'a promising' indication.
The report cited stolen credentials as the most common way of gaining unauthorized access into organizations in 2009, pointing once again to the importance of strong security practices both for individuals and organizations. Organized criminal groups were responsible for 85 percent of all stolen data last year, the report said.
he 2010 report concluded that being prepared remains the best defense against security breaches. For the most part, organizations still remain sluggish in detecting and responding to incidents. Most breaches (60 percent) continue to be discovered by external parties and then only after a considerable amount of time. And while most victimized organizations have evidence of a breach in their security logs, they often overlook them due to a lack of staff, tools or processes.
Other key findings include:
  • Most data breaches investigated were caused by external sources. Sixty-nine percent of breaches resulted from these sources, while only 11 percent were linked to business partners. Forty-nine percent were caused by insiders, which is an increase over previous report findings, primarily due in part to an expanded dataset and the types of cases studied by the Secret Service.
  • Many breaches involved privilege misuse. Forty-eight percent of breaches were attributed to users who, for malicious purposes, abused their right to access corporate information. An additional 40 percent of breaches were the result of hacking, while 28 percent were due to social tactics and 14 percent to physical attacks.
  • Commonalities continue across breaches. As in previous years, nearly all data was breached from servers and online applications. Eight-five percent of the breaches were not considered highly difficult, and 87 percent of victims had evidence of the breach in their log files, yet missed it. Meeting PCI-DSS compliance still critically important. Seventy-nine percent of victims subject to the PCI-DSS standard hadn't achieved compliance prior to the breach.
  • The report said the decline in the overall number of data breaches may be due to a number of factors, including 'law enforcement's effectiveness in capturing criminals.' The report cited the arrest of Albert Gonzalez, one of the world's most notorious computer hackers, who pleaded guilty to helping run a global ring that stole hundreds of millions of payment card numbers and who was sentenced last year to 20 years in prison.
  • Data breaches continue to occur within all types of organizations. Financial services, hospitality and retail still comprise the 'Big Three' of industries affected (33 percent, 23 percent and 15 percent, respectively) in the merged Verizon-Secret Service dataset, though tech services edged out retail in Verizon's caseload. A growing percentage of cases and an astounding 94 percent of all compromised records in 2009 were attributable to financial services.
  • More than half of the breaches investigated by Verizon in 2009 occurred outside the U.S., while the bulk of the breaches investigated by the Secret Service occurred in the U.S. The report finds no correlation between an organization's size and its chances of suffering a data breach.
The 2010 study once again shows that simple actions, when done diligently and continually, can reap big benefits.
These actions include:
  • Restrict and monitor privileged users. The data from the Secret Service showed that there were more insider breaches than ever before. Insiders, especially highly privileged ones, can be difficult to control. The best strategies are to trust but verify by using pre-employment screening; limit user privileges; and employ separation of duties. Privileged use should be logged and messages detailing activity generated to management.
  • Watch for 'Minor' Policy Violations. The study finds a correlation between seemingly minor policy violations and more serious abuse. This suggests that organizations should be wary of and adequately respond to all violations of an organization's policies. Based on case data, the presence of illegal content on user systems or other inappropriate behavior is a reasonable indicator of a future breach. Actively searching for such indicators may prove even more effective.
  • Implement Measures to Thwart Stolen Credentials. Keeping credential-capturing malware off systems is priority No. 1. Consider two-factor authentication where appropriate. If possible, implement time-of-use rules, IP blacklisting and restricting administrative connections.
  • Monitor and Filter Outbound Traffic. At some point during the sequence of events in many breaches, something (data, communications, connections) goes out externally via an organization's network that, if prevented, could break the chain and stop the breach. By monitoring, understanding and controlling outbound traffic, an organization can greatly increase its chances of mitigating malicious activity.
  • Change Your Approach to Event Monitoring and Log Analysis. Almost all victims have evidence of the breach in their logs. It doesn't take much to figure out that something is amiss and make needed changes. Organizations should make time to review more thoroughly batch-processed data and analysis of logs. Make sure there are enough people, adequate tools and sufficient processes in place to recognize and respond to anomalies. Share Incident Information. An organization's ability to fully protect itself is based on the information available to do so.