An inconvenient truth about data breaches in 2015 is that the exploitation of one organization often can expose many other organizations and individuals to collateral risk, according to Hewlett Packard Enterprise's 2016 Cyber Risk Report. While 2014 was called the year of the breach in the last Cyber Risk Report, due in part to the high volume of retail breaches that occurred during the year, HPE is calling 2015 the year of collateral damage.
"This is the notion that there have been breaches of data, where people were affected, but they had no expectation they would in fact be impacted," Jewel Timpe, senior manager for threat research with Hewlett Packard Enterprise Security Research, told eWEEK.
Of particular note is the breach last year of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) that impacted 26 million Americans. If an individual was even peripherally connected to someone who applied for a job in the government, that information could have been in the OPM database, Timpe said.
Another key trend identified in HPE's 2016 report was one also highlighted in the 2015 Cyber Risk Report—that is a lack of patching. The 2015 report found that 44 percent of breaches were attributed to patched vulnerabilities that were between 2 and 4 years old.
"The industry still has learned nothing about patching in 2015," Timpe said. "The No. 1 vulnerability exploited in 2015 was the same Stuxnet vulnerability (CVE-2010-2568) that was a top exploit in 2014." The vulnerability, which helped enable the Stuxnet worm that was used as a weapon against an Iranian nuclear facility in 2010, was the top exploit sample seen by HPE in 2015, coming in at 29 percent.
Overall, many organizations have challenges with the complexity and cost of actually applying patches, according to Tempe.
As to why patching continues to be such a challenge, there are a number of reasons. Andrzej Kawalec, CTO of Enterprise Security Services at HPE, said that having the right IT staff continues to be an issue, as is the difficulty in properly monitoring and managing patch compliance. There is now what Kawalec said is a "presumption of vulnerability" in many organizations and, as such, the use of continuous monitoring and visibility technologies can be a way to improve security.
"Many organizations are running to keep up with all the data and threat feeds they get, and they're building a big data lake, but they're drowning in it," Kawalec told eWEEK. "People are just struggling with volume a lot of the time, rather than just being exploited by targeted attacks."
A way forward, according to Kawalec, is for organizations to embrace broad, comprehensive security platforms that can automate many processes and even remediation, to help deal with the volume of security threats.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.