4/16/2018
08:05 AM
Joe Stanganelli
Joe Stanganelli
Joe Stanganelli

Data Breach Increase Shows Endpoints Are Under Attack

The stats and factoids from the latest edition of Verizon's annual Data Breach Investigation Report make clear enterprise endpoints have been far too vulnerable and that explains why data breaches are on the rise.



Verizon's annual security report on data breaches makes it clear that endpoint attacks are on the rise -- and are perhaps responsible for as many of half of all enterprise data breaches.

On April 10, Verizon released its 2018 Data Breach Investigation Report (DBIR). Now in its 11th annual edition, the latest DBIR from Verizon Business demonstrates that hackers are taking advantage of habitually poor endpoint security.

About 14.5% of more than 2,200 confirmed data breaches across 67 enterprises spanning 65 nations involved remote attacks against point-of-sale (POS) terminals and controllers, while about 5% more occurred through the physical implantation of payment-card skimmers on POS devices, which includes everything from gas-pump terminals to ATMs.

Another 6.5% of breaches stemmed from physically "lost or stolen assets" -- but the DBIR does not distinguish here between endpoint devices as an asset -- laptop or mobile device -- and documents or storage devices as an asset.

And yet web-application attacks against endpoint devices -- without the use of stolen credentials (including, for instance, so-called "drive-by malware") --- however, were the most popular attack vector used in last year's breaches, representing well over 18.5%. Ransomware, in particular, has been particularly prolific -- representing 56% of all malware found. And while ransomware commonly does not so much cause a data breach as it does a data loss, the main takeaway is the same: Organizations' data stores are highly vulnerable to outside attacks against unwitting users' endpoint devices via web apps.

"Malicious stuff is always going on in the Internet so any system you put onto the internet needs to withstand the internet background radiation," DBIR co-author Gabe Bassett told Security Now sister site Light Reading. "Right now, ransomware is a great value proposition -- it is a low investment, you don't have to do a lot of targeting or heavy involvement." (See: Unknown Document 742114.)

Obviously, these numbers go up if a user's credentials have been compromised or if there is an insider-attack element. Other categories of incident patterns, too, include endpoint attacks. DBIR acknowledges that the more than 7.5% of data breaches resulting from cyber-espionage, for instance, to some extent include endpoint-compromising phishing campaigns that install backdoor malware on devices.

More disconcerting is the success rate -- or failure rate, depending upon one's point of view -- of attempts and incidents involving endpoint exploitation. The DBIR reports:

  • Nearly one out of every ten web-application attack incidents succeeded in achieving a data breach.
  • Almost 78% of physical skimmer deployments led to a data breach.
  • Nearly all remote POS attacks (more than 98%) resulted in a data breach.

Conversely, lost and stolen assets rarely -- less than 3.7% of the time -- resulted in a confirmed data breach, although that figure may well rise as time passes.

These statistics, combined with Verizon's own insights on attack-pattern repetition, suggest that these endpoint attacks will continue.

"Hank Williams, Jr., is not the only one who finds old habits hard to break apparently," reads the DBIR. "It appears to be the case for threat actors too, especially if tried-and-true methods continue to yield results."

Alas, the good guys are not breaking their bad endpoint-security habits either, according to the DBIR, including, but not limited to:

  • Exposing endpoints needlessly. ("Many victims could easily become an above-the-median hanging fruit by simply filtering what external IP addresses can reach the remote access mechanism of their POS controller.")
  • Using outdated software versions.
  • Failing to install and use basic anti-malware software.
  • Insufficient anti-phishing training.
  • Lacking multi-factor authentication.
  • Employees leaving their endpoint devices unattended -- particularly in their work areas and in their cars.

At least when it comes to portable endpoint devices, the one bright spot from this year's DBIR is that Verizon maintains, as in years past, that data breaches involving mobile devices remain infrequent (at least, of the types of data breaches that the DBIR covers). Nonetheless, Verizon warns that keeping mobile endpoints secure remains important.

"While some [mobile malware] could be brushed off as 'nuisanceware' or simply a consumer issue, applications with capabilities of capturing and exfiltrating data do exist and organizations need to be mindful of the potential impact of a compromised corporate mobile device," cautions the DBIR. "As mobile devices often provide privileged access to the enterprise environment and hold two-factor authentication credentials, these classes of malware and device-based attacks can result in more damage than adware or click fraud."

As such, the DBIR notes that attackers are increasingly implementing mobile-specific attack strategies to steal data -- and that Verizon is keeping an eye on the space accordingly.

Related posts:

—Joe Stanganelli, principal of Beacon Hill Law, is a Boston-based attorney, corporate-communications and data-privacy consultant, writer, and speaker. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeStanganelli.

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