It has been another brutal year for organizations, according to a new report summarizing data breach activity in the first nine months of 2018.
On the one hand, the number of reported data breaches this year between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 was down 8% compared with the same point last year. In addition, the number of exposed records for the first nine months of this year was lower by a substantial 49%. Yet at the same time, the numbers still translated to 3,676 breaches and a staggering 3.6 billion records compromised.
That puts 2018 on track for having the second-most number of reported breaches in a year and the third-highest number of records exposed overall since 2005, according to Risk Based Security, which analyzed data pertaining to breaches gathered from public sources, through automated and proprietary processes, and other means.
Seven of the breaches this year exposed 100 million or more records, and the 10 largest accounted for more than eight in 10 of all records compromised. Among those suffering major data breaches this year were Facebook, Under Armour, Ticketfly, and Hudson's Bay Company.
That there were fewer data breaches and records compromised in the first nine months of 2018 compared withthe same period last year could be that attackers were more engaged in crypto-currency mining activities in the early part of this year. There were also no catastrophic events like the WannaCry and Petya/NotPetya outbreaks as in 2017, at least through the end of September. But that does not mean the threat has become any less.
"Breaches are not going away; the problem is not getting better," says Inga Goddijn, executive vice president of Risk Based Security. "There is still money to made by stealing sensitive and confidential data."
Despite mounting regulatory pressures, this year saw little improvement in the interval between when organizations first discover a breach and when they publicly disclose the event. In 2017, organizations took an average 47 days to publicly disclose an event; this year the number stood at 47.5 days.
For all the investments that organizations are making in breach detection and response, most discover a breach only after being informed of it by an external party. Just 483 — or 13% —of the 3,676 publicly reported data breaches were discovered internally, according to Risk Based Security. In well more than half the reported breaches — 2,171 — the breached entity did not know about the intrusion until being informed by a third party.
"The vast majority of breaches are still uncovered by external sources, such as law enforcement or banks detecting fraudulent activity, then alerting the organization they may have an issue," Goddijn says. "Until we get better at finding breaches in-house, I'm skeptical we'll see much improvement [in breach reporting]."
As has been the case for several years, insiders posed the biggest threat to data. Fraud — a term that Risk Based Security uses to describe any sort of malicious insider activity or no-technical methods of illegally accessing data — accounted for nearly 36% of the records compromised.
In fact, some of the most damaging incidents this year resulted from insiders selling access to databases containing sensitive data, Goddijn says. More than 30 of 51 data breaches involving intellectual property in the first nine months of 2018 stemmed from inside the organization. In addition to malicious activity, many organizations suffered data compromises because of employees and others with insider access mishandling assets.
Email addresses, passwords, names, and, addresses were the most commonly exposed data types. But 18% of the breaches exposed Social Security numbers, 15% involved credit card data, and 11% compromised birth dates.
While insiders were responsible for the most number of records compromised, hacking by external parties continued to be the primary reason for security incidents at most organizations.
"Typically, hacking is financially motivated, whether it be to steal data that can later be monetized or leverage system access for some other operation that ultimately generates income for the actor," Goddijn says. But there were other causes for external hacking as well, including political motivations and curiosity, she adds.
Somewhat surprisingly given current regulatory pressures, about 35% of organizations that suffered a breach this year did not or were not able to disclose the number of records impacted in the incident.
Ironically enough, many of these breaches were less significant than the refusal to disclose details might suggest Goddijn says. More than 48% of all breaches, in fact, exposed between one and 1,000 records. "We've become so accustomed to seeing headline-busting breaches — with hundreds of thousands or even millions of records lost — that when the number is 'undisclosed,' people have a tendency to assume the worst," she notes.
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