Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Financial Crimes Topped State-Sponsored Hacking Incidents in 2012

2012 was a year for cyberwar. Government officials and lawmakers talked about it a lot; different countries were found to be engaging in it, some attacking, some defending, some doing a certain amount of both.

But even so, for all the talk about cyberwar, it didn’t come close to eclipsing the amount of financially motivated crime that took place in the digital realm, a new study by telecom giant Verizon has found.

In its ninth annual survey of data breach investigations, which will be formally released tomorrow, Verizon found that old-fashioned financial motivations accounted for 75 percent of computer security incidents. State-sponsored attacks accounted for 20 percent. And, as you might expect, the victims are the organizations that move or hold a lot of money: Financial organizations were targets 37 percent of the time, followed by retailers (24 percent) and manufacturing, transportation and utilities (20 percent).

The study’s sample size included 621 confirmed data breaches and more than 47,000 reported computer security incidents in 27 countries and territories. Verizon has been gathering the data for nine years, and now has records encompassing 2,500 data breaches and 1.2 billion compromised records.

Attacks by outside entities accounted for the majority of breaches, while only 14 percent were attributed to insiders and 1 percent to business partners; 71 percent of breaches targeted user devices and 54 percent were aimed at servers. Perhaps most troubling: Two thirds of the breaches reported required a month or more to discover.

The benefit of a study like this is that it happens at all. Since most large companies and organizations aren’t usually willing to disclose when they’ve been attacked — most have — and suffered a breach that actually cost them some money, it’s rare to see this sort of trend data gathered up in one place.

One interesting thing I noted as I scanned the report. For all the security-related anxiety that seems to have arisen during the two years or so around the “bring your own device” trend in the enterprise — where employers let workers use their personal smartphones or tablets or notebooks to access corporate networks — there seem to have been practically no BYOD-related security incidents. As one sidebar in the report put it:

“The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend is a current topic of debate and planning in many organizations. Unfortunately, we don’t have much hard evidence to offer from our breach data. We saw only one breach involving personally-owned devices in 2011 and a couple more in 2012. We’ll keep watching.”

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