2/12/2020
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Third-Party Breaches and the Number of Records Exposed Increased Sharply in 2019

Each breach exposed an average of 13 million records, Risk Based Security found.



Third-party risks are quickly mounting for enterprise organizations if the number of data breaches and total number of records exposed as a result are any indication.

In a recent analysis of data pertaining to security breaches in 2019, Risk Based Security uncovered a sharp increase in incidents involving companies handling sensitive data for business partners and other clients. The total number of such third-party breaches hit 368 in 2019, up from 328 in 2018 and 273 in 2017 — a 35% increase in two years.

In addition, the number of records exposed in these breaches skyrocketed 273% last year, from just over 1.7 billion in 2018 to 4.8 billion in 2019. On average, some 13 million records were exposed in each third-party breach in 2019, making it easily the worst year ever on record, according to the analysis. Data exposed in these breaches ran the gamut, including names, addresses, dates of birth, Social Security Numbers, credit card numbers, email addresses, and financial data.

Risk Based Security counted a total of 7,098 data breaches in 2019 — a relatively modest increase of 1% over 2018's 7,035 publicly disclosed data breaches. The breaches in total exposed a staggering 15.1 billion records, which included everything from relatively innocuous transaction logs to PII, financial data, and health records.

"The security landscape is just as challenging as ever," says Inga Goddijn, executive vice president at Risk Based Security. "Given the trend over the past few years now, expect the number of events to continue to grow while the number of records exposed will be driven in large part by the number of leaky databases and services uncovered."   

Though the overall number of breaches increased only slightly year-over-year, the number of records exposed in 2019 was some 284% greater than in 2018. But that was largely due to four incidents that alone accounted for some 8.5 billion of the 15.1 billion records in total that were exposed.

Risk Based Security identified the four breaches as involving smart home product company Orvibo; Chinese e-commerce merchant LightInTheBox; email marketing company Verifications.io; and an unknown company managing data for data aggregators including Oxydata and People Data Labs.

All four breaches resulted from data being put into open, misconfigured databases that were then made publicly accessible over the Internet to anyone. Excluding these data breaches, the total number of records exposed last year would still have been higher than the number in 2018, but by a relatively small 1.3 billion records.

Karen Bruner, technical evangelist at container security firm StackRox, says the increase in breaches involving cloud databases and services is the result of poor security hygiene. "All the major cloud providers offer the controls needed to keep the data in their cloud buckets private, but customers need to use them," Bruner says.

Inexperienced cloud users will sometimes remove all protections when they have trouble accessing the data from applications. That inexperience often goes hand-in-hand with not doing best practices, like scanning their cloud infrastructure for security misconfigurations, she says. "And when security is set up correctly initially, it takes just one customer change to wipe it out and make the bucket contents public," Bruner adds.

Web Breaches Exposed Most Records
As in previous years, breaches involving external hackers, malicious insiders, and from accidents and negligence outnumbered breaches stemming from other causes. However, Web breaches caused by misconfigured services and failure to follow basic hardening practices resulted in a far greater number of exposed records. For instance, though nearly 5,200 data breaches resulted from hacking, they exposed only about 1.5 billion records as compared to nearly 13.6 billion records from a mere 343 Web breaches.

Sam Rubin, vice president at incident response and risk management firm Crypsis Group, says the Risk Based Security report highlights the challenges posed by the growing complexity and attack surface of modern IT environments.

"The cloud is highly enabling, yet with so many cloud providers in the typical enterprise mix, most IT teams have multiple shared responsibility models to manage," he says.

Smaller organizations are as likely as enterprises to use cloud providers, yet they are more challenged with the staffing needed to manage cloud security best practices. Large enterprises have more qualified staff but tend to have a more expansive multicloud terrain to navigate, he says. "And unfortunately, cloud is only one challenge companies must address," Rubin says.

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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

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