CyberCrimeSecurity

Most Data Breaches Are Result Of Identity Theft

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

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Identity theft takes top spot in breach study, accounting for 53 percent of data breaches

Data breaches increased by 10 percent during the first six months of this year compared to the first half of 2014.

This was the finding of digital security specialist Gemalto’s Breach Level Index for the first six months of 2015, which found that 888 data breaches occurred, compromising 246 million records worldwide.

Compromised data

The study also revealed that the number of compromised data records declined by 41 percent

This decline can most likely be attributed to that fact that fewer large scale mega breaches have occurred in the retail industry compared to the same period last year.

digital identityDespite the decrease in the number of compromised records, large data breaches continued to expose massive amounts of personal information and identities. The largest breach in the first half of 2015 – which scored a 10 in terms of severity on the Breach Level Index – was an identity theft attack on Anthem Insurance that exposed 78.8 million records, representing almost a third (32 percent) of the total data records stolen in the first six months of 2015. Other notable breaches during this analysis period included a 21-million-record breach at the US Office of Personnel Management; a 50-million-record breach at Turkey’s General Directorate of Population and Citizenship Affairs; and a 20-million-record breach at Russia’s Topface. In fact, the top 10 breaches accounted for 81.4 percent of all compromised records.

Jason Hart,vice president and CTO for data protection at Gemalto, said: “What we’re continuing to see is a large ROI for hackers with sophisticated attacks that expose massive amounts data records. Cyber criminals are still getting away with big and very valuable data sets. For instance, the average healthcare data breach in the first half of 2015 netted more than 450,000 data records, which is an increase of 200 percent compared to the same time last year.”

The number of state-sponsored attacks accounted for just two percent of data breach incidents, but the number of records compromised as a result of those attacks totalled 41 percent of all records exposed, due to the breaches at Anthem Insurance and the US Office of Personnel Management. While none of the top 10 breaches from first half of 2014 were caused by state-sponsored attacks, three of the top ten this year were state sponsored, including the top two.

At the same time, malicious outsiders were the leading source of data breaches in the first half of 2015, accounting for 546 or 62 percent of breaches, compared to 465 or 58 percent in the first half of last year. 46 percent or 116 million of the total compromised records were attributable to malicious outsiders, down from 71.8 percent or 298 million in 2014.

Identity theft remained the primary type of breach, accounting for 75 percent of all records compromised and slightly more than half (53 percent) of data breaches in the first half of 2015. Five of the top ten breaches, including the top three – which were all classified as Catastrophic on the BLI – were identity theft breaches, down from seven of the top 10 from the same period last year.

Across industries, the government and healthcare sectors accounted for about two-thirds of compromised data records (31 percent and 34 percent respectively), though healthcare only accounted for 21 percent of breaches this year, down from 29 percent compared to the same period last year. The retail sector saw a significant drop in the number of stolen data records, accounting for four percent compared to 38 percent for the same period last year. Across regions, the US represented the largest share with three-quarters (76 percent) of data breaches and nearly half of all compromised records (49 percent). Turkey accounted for 26 percent of compromised records, with its massive GDPCA breach in which 50 million records were breached by a malicious outsider.

The level of encryption used to protect exposed data – which can dramatically reduce the impact of data breaches – increased slightly to four percent of all breaches compared with one percent in H1 2014.

“While the number of data breaches fluctuates, it’s still clear that breaches are not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when.’ The Breach Level Index data shows that most companies are not able to protect their data once their perimeter defenses are compromised. Although more companies are encrypting data, they are not doing it at the levels needed to reduce the magnitude of these attacks,” added Hart.

“What is needed is a data-centric view of digital threats starting with better identity and access control techniques including multi-factor authentication and strong encryption to render sensitive information useless to thieves.”

According to Forrester, as cybercriminals have become more skillful and sophisticated, they have eroded the effectiveness of traditional perimeter-based security controls. The constantly mutating threat landscape requires new defensive measures, one of which is the pervasive use of data encryption technologies. In the future, organisations will encrypt data – both in motion and at rest – by default. This data-centric approach to security is a much more effective way to keep up with determined cybercriminals. By encrypting, and thereby devaluing, sensitive data, organisations can make cybercriminals bypass their networks and look for less robustly protected targets. Encryption will become a strategic cornerstone for security and risk executives responsible for their organisation’s data security and privacy efforts.

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