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Attacks/Breaches

2/6/2018
10:00 AM
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2017 Smashed World's Records for Most Data Breaches, Exposed Information

Five mega-breaches last year accounted for more than 72% of all data records exposed in 2017.

It was a record-breaking year for the numbers of publicly reported data breaches and exposed records in 2017 worldwide: a total of 5,207 breaches and 7.89 billion information records compromised.

While hacking remained the No. 1 method used in data breaches last year (55.8%), for the first time it wasn't the top cause of exposed data records: 68.7% of exposed records came at the hands of unintentional Web-borne exposure due to accidental leaking online and misconfigured services and portals.

Some 5.4 billion records were exposed this way, even though that was via just 5% of all reported breaches. Data breaches due to hacks accounted for 2.3 billion records.

"These were misconfigured services, faulty backups, that sort of administrative error that leads to those data sets then being open and exposed to the Internet," explains Inga Goddijn, executive vice president of Risk Based Security, which compiled the breach data from public disclosures for its annual report. "The popularity of search engines like Shodan make it an incredibly open doorway for discovering that information. ... Both security researchers and malicious actors alike understand the power of those tools."

There was a painful wave of publicly disclosed leaks via misconfigured Amazon Web Services (AWS) Simple Storage Service (S3) bucket accounts in 2017. RedLock CSI (Cloud Security Intelligence) found that 53% of businesses using cloud storage services like AWS S3 had inadvertently exposed one or more of their cloud services to the Internet. Among the big-name companies found with exposed AWS S3 storage buckets were Accenture, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Verizon.

Goddijn says most of the exposed record incidents in 2017 were data-handling errors that could have been prevented. Risk Based Security, which compiles and aggregates publicly disclosed data breach events, published its findings today in its annual Data Breach QuickView report on breach trends for 2017.

Both the number of total breaches and total records exposed each jumped by 24% over 2016.

Big Data
Eight of 2017's reported data breaches made the Top 20 list of all-time largest breaches, according to the report. And the five biggest breaches of the year exposed 72.2% of the records, or 5.7 billion records total.

Goddijn points to a few mega-breaches driving that data, including those at Equifax and Sabre Systems. While travel systems provider Sabre has not reported the full extent of its breach, affected third parties continue to issue notifications affecting their customers, she says. "We are still getting information on organizations that had employee or customer data exposed as part of that Sabre breach," including hotels and travel organizations, she says.

"They [Sabre] never came out and said how big it was, but it has been one of the larger ones" based on the fallout, she says. It's unclear if Sabre even knows the full extent of the breach, she says.

Most reported breaches (39.4%) occurred in the business sector, followed by medical (8.1%), government (7.2%), and education (5.3%). And 40% of breaches came from organizations that were not identifiable based on the public disclosure data.

Businesses suffered the most exposed records, with 82.9%, government (3.7%), medical (less than 1%), education (less than 1%), and some 12.4% in sectors not identifiable via public disclosure information.

The US led the world with the most reported breaches, with 2,330, followed by the UK (184), Canada (116), India (78), and Australia (62). That wide gap between the US and Europe could change once the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect in May, which includes rules for mandatory breach notification. "I'll be curious to see how GDPR impacts the data," she says, noting that the US has had some of the most stringent reporting requirements thus far.

Even so, the US didn't rank at the top for median number of lost records: 1,458, far below China (11.8 million), South Africa (6.7 million), South Korea (1 million), and other nations.

The top five all-time biggest data breaches are Yahoo (3 billion records) in 2016; China's DU Caller Group (2 billion records); US's River City Media (1.3 billion); China's NetEase (1.2 billion); followed by 711 million records exposed by a Netherlands organization not disclosed, according to the report.

There was a bit of good news amid the record-breaking year of breaches and exposed data records, however: "We don't see overall severity [of breaches] getting worse. That dropped a bit in the fourth quarter," Goddijn says.

Given the heavy representation of human error for exposed data, Goddijn says organizations should continue to double down on security awareness training, including preparing users on how they can be targeted and what sort of information attackers are after. "That could help cut down the number of breaches," she says. Training is an ongoing process, she adds.

But don't expect any major improvement in breaches for 2018. "I have a feeling 2018 is going to be just as bad and worse," Goddijn says.  And the annual breach report doesn't even include Internet of Things data exposure, she points out.

Related Content:

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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