In 2008, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, there were 656 reported data breaches, an increase of 47% from the 2007 total of 446.
The breaches were reported in the following sectors: business (240), education (131), government/military (110), health/medical (97), and financial/credit (78).
"The financial, banking, and credit industries have remained the most proactive groups in terms of data protection over all three years," the ITRC said in a statement. "The government/military category has dropped nearly 50% since 2006, moving from the highest number of breaches to the third highest."
With the business sector accounting for 36.6% of the breach total in 2008, up from 28.9% of the 2007 total and 21% of the 2006 total, the ITRC observes that the business community needs to improve its data security measures.
An analysis published on the Chronicles of Dissent blog argues that the financial sector should be singled out for poor security.
"Whereas ITRC's analysis might lead to the conclusion that the financial section is the most proactive sector because they represent less than 12% of all breaches, inspection of the raw frequency data suggests a somewhat different picture: reported breaches increased over 250% from 2007 to 2008," the blog states. "That trend indicates that security in the financial sector is not keeping pace with previous threats and new threats to data security."
One obvious place to start would be actually attempting to protect data. "[O]nly 2.4% of all breaches had encryption or other strong protection methods in use," according to the ITRC. "Only 8.5% of reported breaches had password protection."
According to the ITRC, malware attacks, hacking, and insider theft account for 29.6% of the breaches with known reported causes. Insider theft alone more than doubled from 2007 to 2008, and now accounts for 15.7% of breaches with known reported causes.
The ITRC also notes that electronic breaches (82.3%) are significantly more common than paper breaches (17.7%).
On the positive side, breaches related to human error -- data lost while on the move and accidental exposure -- declined, though they still account for 35.2% of breaches with reported causes.
Also, the government and military showed marked improvement, accounting for only 16.8% of the breaches last year, compared with 30% in 2006.