2010 Data Breach Investigations Report

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Full Title of Reference

2010 Data Breach Investigations Report

Full Citation

Verizon, 2010 Data Breach Investigations Report (2010). Online paper. Web



Key Words

Computer Network Attack, COTS Software, Hackers, Malicious Code (Malware), Organized Crime, Password Weakness, Patching, Social Engineering, Software Vulnerability


In partnership with the U.S. Secret Service (USSS), Verizon analyzed first-hand evidence collected during breach investigations. The primary dataset analyzed in this report contains the 141 (57 + 84) confirmed breach cases worked by Verizon and the USSS in 2009. The total number of data records compromised across these cases exceeds 143 million. As was the case in our last report, about two-thirds of the breaches covered herein have either not yet been disclosed or never will be. Many were related in some manner (i.e., same perpetrators or source IP). So far, almost 15% of Verizon’s 2009 cases led to known arrests while 66% of USSS cases resulted in the arrest of a suspect.

Highlights of the study include:

  • Driven largely by organized groups, the majority of breaches and almost all data stolen (98%) in 2009 was still the work of criminals outside the victim organization. Insiders, however, were more common in cases worked by the USSS, which boosted this figure in the joint dataset considerably. Breaches linked to business partners continued the decline observed in our last report and reached the lowest level since 2004.
  • Related to the larger proportion of insiders, Misuse sits atop the list of threat actions leading to breaches in 2009. That’s not to say that Hacking and Malware have gone the way of the dinosaurs; they ranked #2 and #3 and were responsible for over 95% of all data comprised. Weak or stolen credentials, SQL injection, and data-capturing, customized malware continue to plague organizations trying to protect information assets. Cases involving the use of social tactics more than doubled and physical attacks like theft, tampering, and surveillance ticked up several notches.
  • As in previous years, nearly all data were breached from servers and applications. This continues to be a defining characteristic between data-at-risk incidents and those involving actual compromise. The proportion of breaches stemming from highly sophisticated attacks remained rather low yet once again accounted for roughly nine out of ten records lost. In

keeping with this finding, we assessed that most breaches could have been avoided without difficult or expensive controls. Yes, hindsight is 20/20 but the lesson holds true; the criminals are not hopelessly ahead in this game. The more we know, the better we can prepare. Speaking of being prepared, organizations remain sluggish in detecting and responding to incidents. Most breaches are discovered by external parties and only then after a considerable amount of time.

Suggestions to Mitigate the Risk of Attacks:

  • Eliminate unnecessary data; keep tabs on what’s left
  • Ensure essential controls are met
  • Check the above again
  • Test and review web applications
  • Audit user accounts and monitor privileged activity
  • Filter outbound traffic
  • Monitor and mine event logs

While we’ve added some new suggestions to the Conclusions and Recommendations section of this report, what you see above is similar to the message we’ve been preaching from the beginning. That’s not because we don’t feel like writing another sermon; it’s simply that, based on the data before us, all the points in this one still apply.

This study always reminds us that our profession has the necessary tools to get the job done. The challenge for us lies in selecting the right tools for the job at hand and then not letting them get dull and rusty over time. Evidence shows when that happens, our adversaries are quick to take advantage of it.

The amount of breaches that exploit authentication in some manner is a problem. In our last report it was default credentials; this year it’s stolen and/or weak credentials. Perhaps this is because attackers know most users are over-privileged. Perhaps it’s because they know we don’t monitor user activity very well. Perhaps it’s just the easiest way in the door. Whatever the reason, we have some work to do here. It doesn’t matter how hardened our defenses are if we can’t distinguish the good guys from the bad guys.

Malware gets increasingly difficult to detect and prevent (especially once the attacker owns the system). Therefore, protect against the damage malware does after infection, much of which can be mitigated if outbound traffic is restricted. Finally, the value of monitoring (perhaps we should say “mining”) logs cannot be overstated. The signs are there; we just need to get better at recognizing them.

The report includes two appendices provided by the Secret Service. One delves into online criminal communities and the other focuses on prosecuting cybercrime using Albert Gonzalez as a case study.

Additional Notes and Highlights

Expertise required:Technology - Low

Link to Verizon's Security Blog