Best of the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report

One of my favourite annual reports to read is the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report. It’s packed full of insights about the threat landscape and security leaders, in my opinion, should read this report to get a pulse on what’s happening in cyber-scape.

After all, as cyber leaders, we are here to stop breaches – so the insights gained from real cyber incidents and breaches is gold in learning how to tighten up our defences.

Unlike some threat reports which are tilted towards highlighting threats that serve the authors cause, this report looks at analytics from Verizon’s 79,635 incident response calls, 5,258 of which were confirmed breaches, from 88 countries around the world. Its findings give a global view of how cyberattacks affected the threat landscape during 2020 and then deep dives into specific industries and regions to give a more targeted picture.

This report is 115 pages long and I recommend diving into the full document here, but my key highlights were as follows:

  • Phishing attacks increased in frequency and appeared in 36% of breaches (up from 25% last year)
  • Human error was present in 85% of breaches, with misconfiguring cloud servers and phishing clicks top of the list.
  • Ransomware appeared in 10% of breaches, double the previous year. Interestingly, a new ransomware trend has emerged where cybercriminals are now stealing data and threatening to publish it, instead of encrypting it.
  • Social engineering-based breaches continued to escalate with cloud-based email servers being a favoured target.
  • Incidents and breaches were more common in external cloud-based assets than on-premises assets.

Industry-Specific highlights

Not all industries are created equal. Industries with a greater reliance on technology, greater retention of sensitive data or broader ways to access that data, had greater risk. The larger the attack surface – the more technology, data and people involved – the greater the risk.

  • Financial services – amazingly almost half of security breaches were caused accidentally by staff, with mis-delivery of emails being the prime suspect. Phishing and ransomware also rated highly as causes of breaches.
  • Healthcare – another frequent victim of human error rather than maliciously motivated attacks. However, financially motivated criminal groups also targeted the industry, commonly with ransomware.
  • Information technology – errors and accidents were widespread in this industry with its complex systems. Misconfiguration accounted for a significant percentage. Meanwhile, the sector battled with credential-stealing botnets and denial-of-service (DoS) attacks.
  • Public administration – social engineering was by far the biggest threat in this industry, accounting for 69% of breaches. Credible phishing emails were commonplace, enabling criminals to steal credentials at an alarming rate.

APAC highlights

It wasn’t a good year for APAC with more breaches in the region than any other. Some of the key trends reported were:

  • The mining, quarrying, oil and gas industry was most targeted in the region.
  • 70% of attacks in the region contained some level of social engineering, typically phishing.
  • 98% of social engineering attacks harvested credentials, which were then either used to escalate or expand the attack by gaining access to mail accounts and web application servers.
  • It is thought that most attacks were committed by financially motivated organised criminals.

So what…?

I like to finish with ‘so what…?’. So, what does this mean to me? So, what should I do now?

I’ve always believed that defence in depth, well-rounded security is better than the silver-bullet approach. (Beware of the vendor offering the silver bullet!). The highlights from this report talk to the usual suspects – ransomware, social engineering, phishing, human error leading to accidental data loss. Looking to address these points whilst not first identifying your business-specific risks and weak spots may be premature. By that, I mean where is your sensitive data? What are the weak spots that may allow lateral movement once an attacker gets in? How quickly can I detect a breach, etc. Taking an inside out approach ensures that you are breach-ready regardless of the attack vector.

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