Retailers Take 197 Days To Detect Advanced Threat, Study Says

Most common method of identifying them as advanced threats is a "gut feeling."

Despite a string of high-profile breaches in recent history, the retail industry is still lagging behind on cybersecurity, according to research released today by Arbor Networks and the Ponemon Institute.

According to the report, it took retailers 197 days on average to identify that they'd been hit with an advanced threat, and took them 39 days to contain it; it took financial services organizations 98 days to identify, and 26 to contain. 

The most common method retailers used for identifying an advanced threat? "A gut feeling." While 23 percent used forensic evidence, 21 percent used known attacker signatures, and 16 percent used threat intelligence that had been shared by others in the industry (and 2 percent said "other), a vast 38 percent simply said they had a gut feeling. The answers in finance were: 34% forensics, 23% signatures, 25 % shared intelligence, and only 20% "gut."

About 22 percent of the security budget, for both industries, was spent on "cyber kill chain activities" -- efforts to disrupt an attack before it happens, ranging from the time an attacker begins its reconaissance to just before it carries out its ultimate goal (like data exfiltration).

"I thought that was a huge number," says Arabella Hallawell, vice president of corporate strategy for Arbor Networks, noting that just a few years ago, few people would have even been familiar with the term "cyber kill chain."

"It's a real sea change from just buying infrastructure-based products," she says.

Overall, respondents didn't have a great amount of confidence in their ability to detect and contain advanced threats, and even less confidence in detecting/containing denials of service. Only 58 percent of financial organizations said technology and personnel were effective in detecting advanced threats, and in all other categories, less than half of respondents in both industries said their technology and personnel were effective.

"I think it's one of the reasons you see them looking at more people-based" solutions, says Hallawell. Threat intelligence and threat hunting, she says, once the domain of only the most security-savvy organizations, are now becoming more popular -- or at least getting on the radar of -- other industries. These methods, she says require more input from and analysis by knowledgable human beings.

Human beings are in short supply. On average, retailers have 11 employees responding to security incidents; financial industries 19, according to the study. Hallawell says that retail, in particular, doesn't often have dedicated teams to respond to security incidents.