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New Verizon Breach Data Shows Outside Threat Dominated 2011

Preview of Verizon Business' data breach cases shows malware and hacking the top breach methods
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RSA CONFERENCE 2012 -- San Francisco, Calif. -- More than 85 percent of the data breach incident response cases investigated by Verizon Business last year originated from a hack, and more than 90 percent of them came from the outside rather than via a malicious insider or business partner.

Verizon today published a snapshot of data from its upcoming 2012 Data Breach Investigations Report, using data from its own caseload of some 90 of its 855 breach cases for last year.

"This is the first year that we worked more cases outside the U.S. than inside. That ratio has been building and it makes the case that this is not a U.S.-specific problem. All regions are having data breaches," says Wade Baker, director of research and intelligence at Verizon Enterprise Solutions.

At the top of the list of compromised industries again was retail, financial services, and hospitality. And a big factor in this year's cases was the rise in hacktivist-based attacks, according to Baker.

Outside or external attackers jumped from 88 percent in 2010 to 92 percent in 2011, and breaches due to internal threats continued to decline, from just more than 10 percent in 2010 to less than 5 percent in 2011, according to Verizon's data. "We can expect this trend to continue. Every single caseload we ever looked at shows the external [threat agent] as the majority except for one," Baker says.

As for breach methods, hacking (86 percent) and malware (57 percent) were on the rise, while social engineering, misuse, physical threats, errors, and environmental factors all dropped.

The most commonly used venue for breaches was exploiting default or easily guessed passwords, with 29 percent of the cases last year, followed by backdoor malware (26 percent), use of stolen credentials (24 percent), exploiting backdoor or command and control channels (23 percent), and keyloggers and spyware (18 percent). SQL injection attacks accounted for 13 percent of the breaches.

"There were a lot of authentication-type attacks," Baker says.

As for the targets, 90 percent of the breaches Verizon investigated went after servers, mainly point-of-sale servers, Web and app servers, and database servers. Nearly 50 percent targeted user devices such as desktops, laptops, and POS terminals. "The user device serves as a foothold into the environment. They are trying to get into your environment and then they spread out," Baker says.

How do organizations learn that they've been hit? Most find out from an external source, usually law enforcement, according to Baker. And for nearly 60 percent of the cases, it took months before the organization learned that it had been hacked.

Verizon's full report for 2011 will include caseload data from Verizon as well as the U.S. Secret Service, the London Metropolitan Police, the Irish CERT, the Dutch National Police, and the Australian Federal Police.

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