Cyber-Threats Affect Industries Differently: Verizon Report

While financial services has to worry about targeted attacks looking to siphon money, health care breaches mainly affected smaller doctors' offices and were used to perpetrate insurance fraud schemes.

Different industries need to worry about attackers taking different tactics to compromise their systems and steal data, according to five new analyses of data from Verizon's annual Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR).

The financial industry, for instance, has to worry more about targeted attacks that are looking to steal money from bank accounts, while health care breaches mainly affect smaller doctors' offices and are used to perpetrate insurance fraud schemes, according to the analyses, which were published by Verizon on Oct. 24 as a set of four industry snapshots. The fifth report looks at attacks on corporate intellectual property, finding that those incidents are markedly different from all the others.

"There definitely is a difference across the industry verticals as well as differences across organizational size, in terms of the attacks we see," said Jay Jacobs, managing principal with Verizon Enterprise Solutions' RISK Team. "Smaller organizations see a different set of attacks than larger organizations."

The analyses call out both differences and similarities between the industries. Attacks on both health care and retail, for example, tended to focus on the small offices: doctor's practices in health care and small stores for retail. Both industries suffered from a lack of security expertise and weakly secured point-of-sale systems, according to Verizon.

Yet health care has to worry about protecting medical devices and electronic medical record (EMR) systems, while retail needs to focus more on curtailing employees' bad online habits, which inadvertently aid attackers.

"It's not that these workers' understanding of security is not good; it's that it is not their specialty," said Jacobs. "They have outsourced it, and even their third-party provider is making mistakes."

Attacks on the hospitality and accommodations industry, which includes restaurants and hotels, account for more than half the cases analyzed by Verizon. Retail came in second with a 20 percent share of attacks, and finance and insurance accounted for 10 percent.

Attacks that aim to steal a firm's intellectual property have characteristics unlike the other four industries. The attacks tend to be targeted, take more time to conduct and focus on a variety of tactics, such as using social engineering, to get information on the targets.

"In almost all other areas we analyze, the target is nearly always one of opportunity," according to the Verizon report. "However, when it comes to IP theft, the targeted nature of the attacks considerably changes how they are conceived and carried out."

The companies targeted by intellectual-property thieves are larger. In addition, insiders tend to collude with an outside attacker to steal the information. While external attackers were involved in 87 percent of intellectual-property cases, internal attackers took part in 46 percent of cases, which shows considerable overlap.

"IP tends to reside deeper inside the organization under several layers of security, but insiders certainly know where it is and how to access it," the report found. "For outsiders wishing to get at it with minimal risk and effort, recruiting insiders to participate often makes a good deal of sense."

Companies can adopt simple defenses to stop most opportunistic attackers, such as using better passwords, and study their threats and risks to understand the best way to foil more targeted attacks, said Verizon's Jacobs.

"Running through different scenarios as you are evaluating security is always a good idea to understand what they are after," said Jacobs.

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos

Robert Lemos is an award-winning freelance journalist who has covered information security, cybercrime and technology's impact on society for almost two decades. A former research engineer, he's...