'Anonymous' Legacy: Hacktivists Stole More Data Than Organized Crime In 2011 Breaches Worldwide

New Verizon Data Breach Intelligence Report finds 58 percent of all data stolen was the result of hacktivist attacks -- but, overall, traditional cybercriminals executed the largest number of actual breaches
Sadly, 96 percent of all of the attacks were simple and didn't require advanced skills or heavy resources to pull off: Seventy-nine percent of attacks were "opportunistic," according to Verizon, and 97 percent were preventable. "If you take a look at the recommendations section, we pulled out a special cutout for small businesses, and their problems are fairly simple to fix," Porter says. These tips include checking administrative passwords on all point-of-sale systems and eliminating weak passwords.

[ Verizon's annual breach investigations reports have consistently shown that fewer attacks exploit vulnerabilities that could have been patched. See The Curious Case Of Unpatchable Vulnerabilities. ]

Cyberespionage-driven targeted attacks represented only a sliver of the cases in the Verizon DBIR, although it was at its highest in the history of the DBIR, according to Verizon's Porter. Only around 4 percent of breaches included theft of intellectual property. "It's hard to know if intellectual property has been stolen. Our numbers are probably on the low end," he says. "And it's probably happening a lot more often, but organizations don't know about it ... [But] I still think organized crime by far is the highest. It's so simple and easy to do these days."

Richard Bejtlich, CSO at Mandiant, says the low percentage of targeted attacks in the DBIR is likely because the bulk of the cases came from the Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies around the world, who don't typically investigate targeted cases, but more so financially motivated attacks. "At least in our country, [the police] are not working the advanced targeted cases. Those are worked by the FBI," Bejtlich says.

He points to the majority of the victim organizations in the report, which are hospitality and retail comanies, which account for 74 percent of the breaches, he estimates. And 72 percent of the victim organizations have 100 or fewer employees, he says. "These are essentially small companies in hospitality and retail that are helpless," Bejtlich says. "This is a nice complement to our M Trends Report [on advanced targeted attacks] -- we don't work any of [these cases]," he says.

The Verizon report also found that 95 percent of stolen data records included personally identifiable information, such as name, contact information, and Social Security number, compared with only 1 percent of the breaches in 2010. That's another indication of just how lucrative that information has become, according to Verizon.

In terms of methods of breach, hacking was No. 1, as the factor in 81 percent of data breaches, versus 50 percent in 2010, and in 99 percent of the data exposed. Malware was used in 69 percent of breaches, compared with 49 percent in 2010, and was employed the exposure of 95 percent of the data records.

Breach discovery is still a major problem, and likely a factor in the amount of damage. More than 90 percent of the time, victim organizations learned from third parties -- mainly law enforcement -- that they had suffered a breach, and breaches are often ongoing for months or years before the victim finds out. Nearly 40 percent of large organizations don't discover a breach for months, according to the report.

"It's disappointing that it takes so long for an organization to discover that they've had a breach," says Current Analysis' DeCarlo. "That shows a lack of progress. It's better the earlier [you discover it] to prevent another one and to also recover and manage the data in some way ... The horse is already out of the barn" if you don't discover a breach until long afterward, she says.

And 96 percent of the victim organizations in the study were not PCI-compliant. Mandiant's Bejtlich says PCI compliance in many of these cases would have gone a long way to avoid their breaches. "This is a lesson for a lot of these organizations," he says.

Verizon released a snapshot of the report data last month at the RSA Conference in San Francisco -- specifically of data on its own breach investigations. In 90 of its 855 breach cases last year, more than 90 percent came from outsiders rather than a malicious insider or business partner, and more than 85 percent were the result of a hack. Verizon at the time did not release any hacktivist data, but hinted that it was a big factor.

The full 2012 Verizon DBIR is available here for download (PDF).

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