Study: Majority of data breaches unnoticed

More than half of the data breaches on hundreds of enterprise systems go
undetected and are caused by general negligence and lax security, according to a
report by Verizon Business revealed late last week.

Verizon's 2008 Verizon
Business Data Breach Investigations Report looked at some 500 cases between 2004
and 2007 where data were breached, resulting in more than 230 million
compromised records.

The study revealed that 66 percent of the data breaches occurred due to
incompetence and weak system fortitude. At least 75 percent of breaches evaded
detection, with weeks, months and even years passing between incursion and
discovery in 63 percent of the cases studied.

The reason for this, according to the study, is that "[f]irstly, and perhaps
most obviously, criminals do not want to be discovered. They have great
financial incentive to retain access to corporate systems for as long as
possible and will go to great lengths to ensure their activities remain under
the radar. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, organizations simply are not

Among some of the more startling findings of the study is that 90 percent of all the hacks
could have been avoided with security measures that are basic and "reasonable."

Verizon, as well as other security experts responding to the report, zeroed
in on several characteristics of breach-prone environments. Among those is the
fact that vulnerable systems often hold tens of thousands ' and sometimes
millions ' of records. If a hacker gets in, they can do any number of things
with individual records with little chance of detection.

Vulnerable systems also lack a viable breach notification process. It's one
thing if a virus is uploaded; a user or administrator would probably notice. But
data theft is quiet. Sometimes, files aren't even extracted or downloaded, but
are merely copied to another location. It also gives the hacker the advantage of

Recent high-profile cases of data breaches, such as those at the
Veterans Affairs Department and, most recently, the
Walter Reed Army Medical Center, illustrate an endemic flaw in the policies,
procedures and system integrity at some of the country's larger and well-known

"Hackers are really coming from all sides and from many vectors with, for the
most part, clear objectives," said Michael Gavin, a security strategist at
Boston, Mass.-based Security Innovation, a consulting firm that conducts annual
and quarterly security audits for enterprise clients. "What's sensitive should
be firewalled or put under the watchful eye of someone who knows what they're
doing. Monitoring of how systems and processes work and are protected doesn't
hurt either."

This story originally was published June 13 at,
an affiliate of and are 1105 Media
Inc. properties.


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