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Attacks/Breaches

Verizon: Most Intellectual Property Theft Involves Company Insiders

While most cybercrimes originate outside the company, IP theft often comes from within, researchers say

Most cybercrimes come from attackers who are outside of your organization. But when it comes to the theft of your most unique and critical data -- your intellectual property -- you should look inside the company first, according to data released this week by Verizon Business.

Verizon is the author of the annual Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), which analyzes data from its investigations of large-scale security breaches. The DBIR is considered one of the industry's most reliable breach studies because it collects actual breach data using its own investigations, rather than relying on victim reports.

This week, Verizon released new vertical "cuts" of the DBIR data that provide insights on breaches in specific industries -- including hospitality, retail, health care, and financial services -- as well as a closer look at intellectual property theft.

The data indicates that more than half of incidents involving the theft of intellectual property -- the plans, designs, and other proprietary data that makes companies unique -- involve the participation of a company insider.

"When you look at most types of data breaches, insiders are involved in only a fraction of them," says Wade Baker, managing principal of the risk team at Verizon Business. "IP theft is the one area where insiders are frequently involved."

Two-thirds of the "insiders" who play a role in IP theft are regular employees, the study says. "And these are not necessarily 'super users' or people with extraordinary access," Baker says. "As an industry, we tend to fear the people with the most privilege, such as top executives or IT administrators, but we forget sometimes that, in most companies, the average user is overprivileged, too."

In many cases, the insider's primary action is the theft or reuse of credentials that provide access to sensitive data, Baker says. Insiders often partner with outsiders, such as business competitors or criminals who bribe insiders to collect data or credentials, he says.

Intellectual property theft can be among the most difficult attacks to detect, Baker states. Some attacks go for years without being detected, and repairing the damage can take a long time, as well, he says.

"Most of the thefts are carried out by determined adversaries who target IP as a shortcut to attaining some manner of strategic, financial, technological or related advantage," the report says. "The attackers generally mix and match their methods until they find a successful combination. Many of these combinations are multiphased and multifaceted."

In addition to the IP theft data, Verizon is offering detailed analyses of data breaches in hospitality, retail, health care, and financial services on its website.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add a Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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