Verizon Acknowledges Breach of 'Basic' Customer Contact Data

Attackers used a flaw in Verizon’s enterprise-customer portal to grab client data from the company, which has made a name for itself as an expert in responding to breaches.

Verizon Data Breach 2

A few weeks after Verizon released a report outlining 18 common data breach scenarios—dressed up with names such as "The Snake Bite" and "The Imperfect Stranger"—the company embarrassingly had to acknowledge its own breach.

Call it "Scenario 19 - Ironic Injection."

Attackers used a flaw in the company's Web portal for enterprise customers to steal data on its clients, Verizon said. The compromise resulted in the leak of information on 1.5 million customers, which were offered up for sale on a closed forum for $100,000, according to security-industry researcher and journalist Brian Krebs, who first reported the breach.

Verizon claims the company was already aware of the breach before it was contacted by Krebs.

"Verizon Enterprise Solutions recently discovered and fixed a security vulnerability on our enterprise client portal," the company said in a statement sent to eWEEK. "Our investigation to date found an attacker obtained basic contact information on a number of our enterprise customers. No customer proprietary network information (CPNI) or other data was accessed or accessible. The impacted customers are currently being notified."

While Verizon did not confirm that 1.5 million customers were impacted, a spokesperson stressed that consumer data was not part of the breach.

As the author of the annual Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), which collects information on and analyzes thousands of breaches every year, Verizon is familiar with the standard ways that attackers infiltrate corporate networks and servers.

While the company has not yet released this year's DBIR, Verizon did release a collection of brief case studies on March 1 that detailed 18 different cases of compromise, removing identifying details of the companies involved.

In each case, Verizon described the incident with high-level characteristics and a pithy moniker. Hackers infiltrating a water company's network became the case of "The Dark Shadow," while a film executive inadvertently infecting systems with a malware-laden USB stick became the case of "The Porta Bella."

Verizon has not released additional details of the portal flaw of its breach, and the company spokesperson did not answer whether Verizon will detail its own security incident.

Other security firms were quick to pounce on the well-known business's apparent failure to protect customer data.

Adam Levin, chairman and founder of identity security firm IDT911, focused on the impact that "basic contact information" could have on Verizon customers.

"Customers who have been exposed are now prime targets for targeted phishing attacks," he said in an email statement sent to eWEEK. "They must be careful not to click on suspicious links or authenticate themselves to anyone who contacts them lest they become unwitting co-conspirators in the theft of their own identities."

John Prisco, CEO of endpoint-security firm Triumfant, argued that too many companies in the industry are not focused on preventing breaches.

"Ask yourself why the company that writes the annual DBIR has itself been breached," he said in a statement sent to eWEEK. "The answer is that the cyber companies receiving billions of dollars of funding are spending it on drive-time radio and other marketing hype; not enough on software development."

Yet, the lack of truly sensitive information suggested that Verizon was overall taking the right actions to protect information, according to Deral Heiland, research lead for global services at vulnerability-management firm Rapid7.

"On a positive note, if the attackers did not gain access to other critical information, such as financial data, or PII information, such as Social Security numbers (SSNs), this greatly reduces the impact of the breach," he said in a statement. "Still, loss of contact information is serious and as stated in the report—this data can be used for targeted phishing attacks better known as spear phishing."

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...