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Attacks/Breaches

4/22/2011
12:13 PM
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Verizon Breach Report Shows Database Security Not Just About Credit Cards Anymore

The number of breached records is down, but database servers are still the hot target of attackers—and smaller organizations are also in the bull's eye

Although the new Verizon Business data breach report did on the surface report that the volume of data exposed has decreased over the past year, security experts warn the database community that it should not infer that this means that it's doing a good job of protecting structured data stores: Digging deeper into the data, in fact, offers evidence that database security is more important than ever.

"Don't take that the records are down as something that to indicate that we don't have to worry about database security at all," says Alex Hutton, principal in research and risk intelligence for Verizon Business, which 2011 Data Breach Investigations Report. "In the traditional hacking of enterprises that you and I think about, database servers are still very much number one--if anything you can read our numbers and you can see external agents are as in love with our databases servers as they always have been."

The report found that behind several types of point-of-sale vectors, databases were the top source of data exposures among all breaches investigated by the Verizon report this year, accounting for 15 percent of records exposed.

According to Hutton and other security evangelists, the new data out shows that hackers aren't just looking at scoring big repositories of credit card data from large organizations anymore. Instead, they're flying under the radar attacking smaller organizations and looking for databases that contain more impactful (and profitable) information beyond the standard personally identifiable information (PII) that most database security professionals have been so concerned about over the last few years.

"The data is clearly saying that the targets now have shifted from the large organizations to small to medium organizations," says Mel Shakir, CTO of NitroSecurity. "It's understandable because they are easy targets. Even among those who have deployed (database) tools, they miss simple things like misconfigurations. This report is an education for them."

Hutton agrees. "The numbers are showing a real unreported story is that the attacks against small to medium-sized business are going up," he says.

Even if these organizations can't afford expensive database monitoring tools, they can start with the basics because it usually takes hackers several steps before they own the database.

"We have opportunities at every piece of the event chain to also protect the database," Hutton explains. "You don't think of a Web server necessarily as a control that protects the database, but it very much is."

Perhaps even more important than the trend of greater attacker focus on SMBs is the fact that the criminal element's craving for different kinds of data has shifted. One thing Hutton says Verizon had a hard time classifying-- but which he thinks anyone who reads the report should keep in mind--is that data volume does not equate to impact of data lost.

"In our data breach report, we really want to report risk, but we have to do so just using the number of records that we think that the customer lost," he explains. "We have to treat a credit card with the same weight as we would treat, say, the plans to the F22 stealth fighter. They each equal one, but I think it is easy to see that the impact is significantly different."

Whether large or small, organizations have to do a better understanding all of the types of data it stores within its databases in order to prevent brand-crushing breaches such as the one that RSA suffered recently, says Mike Murray, managing partner at MAD Security. As Murray puts it, the database security community needs to get over its obsession with protecting PCI-regulated data.

"If I'm reading the report as a database security person and I'm going, 'Holy crap, it's not just our credit cards, it's everything that could be of value,'" he says.

After so many years of mega data breaches, the market for credit card data and other PII has been diluted so much that a big breach that once could net criminals one dollar per record now only brings in about a penny per record, he says.

"The one fundamental constant of all criminals is that they're lazy. Nobody goes into a life of crime because they want to work hard for forty years to advance. If they did, they'd have a normal job," he says. "But just because they aren't making money on credit card numbers doesn't mean they're going to get a job at Starbucks. It means they're going to steal something else."

Verizon found that a total of 64 percent of breach incidents included theft of authentication information, sensitive organizational data, intellectual property or classified information.

"If I'm in database security, I'm reading that list really closely and I'm mapping the organization for everything but the credit cards," Murray says. "Because that's the kind of stuff we as an industry haven't really spent a whole lot of time on."

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