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Takeaways from Verizon's data breach report

Given the kinds of pressures it puts on organizations, taking care of security tends to be a short-term memory thing. It’s all about what happened yesterday and what’s likely to happen tomorrow, and even a year ago can seem like another reality.

Verizon, in its 2014 Data Breach Investigation Report (DBIR), shows that the short-term focus has its downsides. Sometimes, that longer-term view can produce real dividends that might otherwise be overlooked.

Foregoing the usual trends approach of these studies — what happened last year versus the previous one — Verizon instead took a deeper dive into the decade of data it has in its vaults.

The goal was to derive “actionable” information that would be of actual use. The report analyzed data from some 50 organizations around the world, taking a look at more than 63,000 security incidents that resulted in 1,367 confirmed data breaches in 2013. Previous DBIR’s had never had more than 1,000.

It’s over longer periods of time that the patterns show themselves, however. The attack methods that created the vast majority of those 2013 incidents can be reduced to just nine and, of those, three stand out as the main culprits. That also confirms the results Verizon found from analyzing previous years’ data.

Drill down even further and two classes of incidents — caused by Web app attacks and cyber espionage — are seen as the main breach threats over the past few years. Point-of-sale attacks, which had exploded through 2011, dropped off sharply in 2012 and only picked up again slightly in 2013. That’s due, Verizon analysts feel, to more small and medium sized businesses becoming aware of them.

“There’s been so many attacks of that kind over the last several years that it’s been like overfishing in the ocean,” said Marc Spitler, Verizon’s senior risk analyst. “So many of the SMBs have been caught, and they have now put meaningful defenses in place.”

The real revelation, however, comes with a comprehensive matrix of incident classifications and industries they’ve affected. That shows a huge difference in the kinds of hits that various sectors take.

Verizon chart showing frequency of incident by sector

It also produces surprises. While Web attacks and cyber espionage may be the strongest threats overall, as far as the public sector is concerned ‘insider misuse’ and ‘miscellaneous error’ accounted for nearly 60 percent of the entire number of incidents in 2013. The feared Web attacks and cyber espionage each accounted for less than 1 percent of public sector incidents.

Misuse and error can be anything from insiders deliberately stealing information to inadvertent mistakes, such as sending an email to the wrong person or attaching files that shouldn’t be attached, according to Spitler.

And that points to the kind of actionable information he hopes readers of the DBIR will glean from the report. Despite all of the fervor and money that’s being directed at government cyber security, a much more immediately effective remedy might be to really tighten up on information handling processes and procedures and general data hygiene?

The overall message of the Verizon report is probably summed up in a very simple graphic that compares, over 10  years, the time it has taken for an attacker to compromise an asset versus the time it takes for a defender to discover the breach. The gap is widening.

chart showing widening gap between time to launch an attack and time to discover breach

“We’re definitely not happy to see that trend,” Spitler said, “and it points to the fact that we need to see better detection methods and controls, because we need to pick these things up faster and sooner to prevent data loss.”

As a member of the self-confessed geek squad inside Verizon that spend a lot of their time going over incident and breach data, Spitler confesses he’s “extremely excited” by the more than 40 organizations who will likely add their data into the next DBIR, which can only improve the accuracy of the company’s big data analysis of these long-term security features.

“With better knowledge of these events we can do a better job of defending against the breaches they cause,” he said. “And it’s the little things we really need to understand.”

Posted by Brian Robinson on Apr 25, 2014 at 10:59 AM


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