More electronic records were exposed in 2008 than in the previous four years combined and most of those breaches -- nine out of 10 -- could have been easily avoided with basic preventative controls consistently applied.
In its 2009 Verizon Business Data Breach Investigations Report, Verizon Business Security Solutions analyzed 90 confirmed breaches that occurred in 2008, affecting 285 million compromised records. The company's previous data breach report covered from 2004 through 2007, a period that saw 230 million compromised records.
About a third of the breaches in Verizon Business' caseload have been publicly disclosed, and additional disclosures are expected before the end of the year. But many breaches will remain unreported because of the absence of any applicable disclosure requirement.
Among the report's findings: 91% of all compromised records were linked to organized criminal groups; customized malware attacks doubled; and the most common attack vectors were default credentials and SQL injection.
In a statement, Peter Tippett, VP of research and intelligence for Verizon Business Security Solutions, described the report as a wake-up call. Businesses need strong security and a proactive approach, he said, particularly because the economic crisis is likely to spur even greater criminal activity.
The good news is that the market for personal data has collapsed.
"Massive exposures of magnetic stripe data in recent years (hundreds of millions in our caseload alone) have effectively flooded the information black market, saturating it with 'dumps,' or credit card magnetic stripe sequences sufficient for counterfeit," according to the report. "This market saturation has driven the price down to a point where magnetic-stripe information is close to worthless. The value associated with selling stolen credit card data have dropped from between $10 and $16 per record in mid-2007 to less than $0.50 per record today."
The bad news is that cybercriminals have focused on stealing personal identification numbers in conjunction with associated bank account information, which allows cash to be stolen from victims' accounts.
This explains why 93% of the 285 million compromised records in 2008 came from financial institutions. The report notes that this is partly due to the sheer size of some of the breaches at financial institutions in 2008. It doesn't state, however, whether the massive 2008 breach reported by Heartland Data Systems is one of those investigated by Verizon.
As was the case in Verizon's previous data breach report, the breaches investigated were discovered by third parties most of the time (69%). This suggests organizations need better insight into and control of the data they oversee.
Surprisingly, 99% of breached records were accessed through servers and applications, rather than desktop computers, notebooks, mobile phones, or portable media.
It's also worth noting that 81% of affected organizations subject to the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) had been identified as noncompliant before being breached.
There are a lot of lessons that can be learned from the report. But the major one is that basic security practices consistently applied can help prevent most data breach incidents.
More specifically, Verizon recommends changing default credentials, avoiding shared credentials, user account reviews, application testing and code reviews, smarter patch management strategies, employee termination procedures, application logging and monitoring, and agreeing on what represents suspicious or anomalous network behavior.
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