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Vulnerabilities / Threats

4/30/2019
06:15 PM
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Database Leaks, Network Traffic Top Data Exfiltration Methods

Intellectual property and personally identifiable information tie for the type of data IT practitioners are worried about losing.

Today's IT and security pros are no strangers to data theft: 61% have experienced a data breach at their current company; 48% at a previous company. On average, each has dealt with six.

Researchers surveyed 700 IT and security professionals as part of McAfee's new report "Grand Theft Data II: The Drivers and Shifting State of Data Breaches." They found data breaches are more severe and under greater scrutiny, with 73% requiring public disclosure or affecting organizations' financial results over the past three years – up five points from 2015, they report.

There are multiple factors contributing to the rise in disclosures, says Candace Worley, chief technical strategist at McAfee. One is the rise of regulation like the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which imposes a fine of €20 million or 4% of worldwide annual revenue for noncompliance of its rules, which include failure to report data breaches.

"That's not something anybody takes lightly," says Worley, who also points to larger, more advanced breaches as a driver of the trend. "We see very complex, very sophisticated attacks and campaigns affecting organizations," she adds. It can take companies a longer amount of time to detect a breach; the longer an attacker is on a network, the more data they can take.

GDPR is also the reason businesses are more concerned about theft of intellectual property (IP), which for the first time tied with personally identifiable information (PII) as the data categories with the highest potential impact, as indicated by 43% of respondents. IP theft is of even greater concern among Asia-Pacific countries, where 51% deemed it highest potential impact.

"It's obviously a very competitive global market," says Worley. "There are various players out there in the space that target IP. I think that's an increasing concern for companies."

PII is historically a major target for cybercriminals because it's easily monetized on the Dark Web, she continues. But there's "a mix of different players" who may go after IP, including nation-state attackers who are less interested in money and more curious about the data itself.

Exfiltration Tactics

The most common means for stealing data depend on who is taking it and where they're taking it from. Database leaks (38%), network traffic (37%), file shares (36%), and corporate email (36%) are most popular overall. Corporate email is top in North America; USB drives are the number-one exfiltration vector in Europe and APAC. Email is most common with insider threats.

"Databases are typically where the crown jewels of an organization are kept," says Worley. Having strong controls around your database, especially with respect to who is accessing it, is imperative when considering the value of information stored in a corporate database.

Who is taking the data? External attackers (hackers, malware authors, organized crime, nation-states, activitists) are behind 61% of data theft instances, up from 57% in 2015. The biggest change was in malware-driven theft, which reached 29%, up from 23% three years prior.

There are also inside actors (employees, contractors, and other parties) whose access can put an organization at risk. Employee-driven breaches make up nearly 60% of internal incidents. Accidental breaches increased by four points (27% to 31%) in the past three years while intentional theft dropped six points (30% to 24%).

Researchers found IT or security departments are involved with 52% of all data leakage; business ops fell second at 29%.

Cloudy Concerns

Cloud applications and infrastructure are broadly deployed but don't appear to cause any more breaches than traditional networks and data centers. Nearly half (46%) of organizations polled use a hybrid cloud approach to data storage, and 29% are cloud-only. About two-thirds of breaches occurred on traditional networks, respondents said, and one-third were in the cloud.

While cloud "is not quite the wild wild west anymore," as Worley puts it, there are still myriad factors to consider when moving to cloud. She points to the shared responsibility model as an example. "That's an area where there's just still a lot of moving parts for organizations as they try to contemplate how their security program needs to change as they move to the cloud," she adds. Whether they're managing IaaS or SaaS, they need to determine how to configure their environments in a secure way.

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Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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