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7/15/2013
09:06 AM
Dave Kearns
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Data Security: Who's Stealing Your Stuff?

According to Verizon's annual Data Breach Investigation Report, it's not the NSA or even a sys admin with superuser privileges like Edward Snowden that's the biggest threat.

OK, I'll admit it. I've had a strange fascination with the Edward Snowden story. I hasten to add that it's not because of the supposedly startling revelations about NSA snooping. I and many others pointed out some time ago that this was the logical outcome of the various anti-terrorism laws passed by Congress. I'm fascinated by how lax data security is at the National Security Agency.

The idea that a low-level contract admin, with only three months on the job, could abscond with four laptops loaded with highly classified information boggles my mind. I mean, your organization is a whole lot more secure, isn't it?

I was going to ask you that question, but it turns out that someone is already doing that. Verizon compiles an annual Data Breach Investigation Report in cooperation with 18 governmental and private organizations:

  • Australian Federal Police
  • CERT Insider Threat Center at Carnegie Mellon University
  • Consortium for Cybersecurity Action
  • Danish Ministry of Defence's Center for Cybersecurity
  • Danish National Police National IT Investigation Section
  • Deloitte
  • Dutch Police National High Tech Crime Unit
  • Electricity Sector Information Sharing and Analysis Center
  • European Cyber Crime Center
  • G-C Partners LLC
  • Spain's Guardia Civil Cybercrime Central Unit
  • Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team
  • Irish Reporting and Information Security Service
  • Malaysia Computer Emergency Response Team
  • National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center
  • ThreatSim
  • US Computer Emergency Readiness Team
  • US Secret Service

The 2013 report (for incidents in 2012) covers more than 47,000 reported security incidents, 621 confirmed data disclosures, and at least 44 million compromised records. Remember that these are only the incidents that have been discovered (the report says 66 percent of breaches take "months or more" to discover) and reported (not everyone is willing to step up and say they've been breached).

The good news, in light of Snowden-like attacks, is that 92 percent of the confirmed data breaches (571, by my math) can be traced to outsiders. Don't feel too smug, though; 69 percent of the security incidents (32,430, again, by my math) can be traced to insiders.

Speaking of insiders, I hope you're clamping down on sys admins and other IT personnel with superuser privileges, but according to the report, you might be looking in the wrong place. "Data theft involving programmers, administrators, or executives certainly makes for interesting anecdotes, but is still less common in our overall dataset than incidents driven by employees with little to no technical aptitude or organizational power."

Sys admins were at fault in only 16 percent of the incidents, while 57 percent were attributable to end users. How do you spot the potential security threats among your employees?

The CERT Insider Threat Center at the Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institute has produced a body of research on the malicious insiders and their behavioral characteristics. According to their research, insiders intent on or considering malicious actions often exhibit identifiable characteristics and/or warning signs before engaging in those acts.

Here are some of the warning signs Verizon cited.

  • More than 30% of insiders engaging in IT sabotage had a prior arrest history. Note, however, this statistic may not be meaningful. For instance, a 2011 study found approximately 30% of U.S. adults have been arrested by age 23.
  • Exhibiting concerning behaviors at work like bragging about the damage they could do to the organization if they so desired. This is often traced to a catalyst event like being passed over for promotion.
  • Utilizing the organization's resources for a side business or having serious conversations with coworkers about starting a competing business.
  • Attempting to gain employees' passwords or to obtain access through trickery or exploitation of a trusted relationship (often called "social engineering").
  • In more than 70% of IP theft cases, insiders steal the information within 30 days of announcing their resignation. Changes in the pattern or quantity of information retrievals in that timeframe are potential indicators.
  • More than half of insiders committing IT sabotage were former employees who regained access via backdoors or corporate accounts that were never disabled.

Recognize any of that behavior?

There's a whole lot more in the report, including the methods used for breaches, incidents by market sector, and sources of state-sponsored breaches. You can download your own copy, but I'll warn you not to read it just before going to bed. It will cause nightmares.

 

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