Last year witnessed few data breaches of the kind that rocked 2015 when organizations like Anthem, the Office of Personnel Management and Ashley Madison reported security incidents involving tens of millions of personal records. Still, 2016 was a pretty bad year for data breaches.
New data from the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) and CyberScout show that 2016, in fact, had more reported breaches than any previous year.
A total of 1,093 security incidents involving loss of sensitive data were disclosed last year. The number represented a 40 percent jump compared to the 780 breaches reported in 2015. In all, about 36.7 million records were exposed in the breaches, which the two organizations described as any incident where an individual’s name along with their driver’s license number, Social Security Number, bank or financial account data, medical records and credit or debit card data is exposed.
In keeping with recent trends, the business sector including retail organizations, suffered the most number of breaches and accounted for 495 or 45.2% of all reported incidents. Healthcare organizations, with 377 breaches or 34.5% of the reported total, ranked second in the list of most breached organizations, followed by educational institutions with 98, and then government and military entities with 72 reported incidents.
In terms of raw numbers, banks and credit card companies had fewer breaches (52) than organizations in any of the other sectors included in the data breach report. However, that number does not tell the full story of the extensive financial damage caused to several banks in 2016 by attackers who exploited the SWIFT messaging network to illegally transfer huge sums of money to offshore accounts.
Hacking, payment card skimming, and phishing attacks represented the leading cause for data loss for the eighth year in a row, according to CyberScout and the ITRC. Combined, the three attack methods accounted for 55.5% of all reported security breaches last year, or nearly 18% higher than in 2015.
Many of the phishing attacks — the report does not specify an exact number — involved CEO business email compromise schemes, and resulted in the exposure of highly sensitive corporate data including those related to state and federal tax filings.
Non-malicious slip-ups, like accidentally sending out an email with sensitive customer data or employees negligently posting confidential data on a public facing website, accounted for a surprisingly high 9.2% — or nearly 1,000 — of the reported incidents last year.
Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of ITRC says it is not entirely clear if the higher number of data breaches in 2016 occurred because there were more actual breaches, or simply because more of them are being reported under new disclosure requirements.
“It is our opinion that both are factors here, but that it is more likely that breaches are actually being discovered due to more robust security measures being in place,” she says.
While the business sector was most impacted last year, it is important keep in mind that over time other sectors have been impacted more heavily for different reasons, Velasquez points out. At one time, for instance, financial companies were big targets since attackers perceived them as having a lot of valuable information. In recent years, the medical and business sectors have gone back and forth as favorite targets.
A study released in December by TrapX showed that attacks on healthcare organizations for instance, grew 63% in 2016 and included some major incidents such as a breach at Banner Health that exposed 3.6 million records, and another at Newkirk Products which compromised 3.4 million records.
“As the thieves come up with more creative ways to monetize our data, different data becomes more valuable, hence the thieves change their targets,” Velasquez says.
Data breaches have become more or less the third certainty in life, adds Adam Levin, chairman and founder of CyberScout. “Businesses of every size and stripe are under assault practically every minute of every day,” Levin says.
“As defenders, they must get everything right while an attacker need find only one point of vulnerability … and make no mistake, foreign and domestic attackers are well armed, fully weaponized and in war mode.”
Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio