Verizon Report Shows Good, Bad News in Data Breach Trends

Fraud detection is no longer the most common way that companies hear about breaches of their data systems. But third parties still are more likely to find a breach before the victim.

The annual Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) typically highlights the overwhelming advantage that attackers continue to have in attacking corporate networks and data. Yet this year's report has a few bright spots, as well.

For the first time, more breaches were detected using internal controls than fraud-detection mechanisms, according to the report. Although the shift is almost entirely due to the drop in point-of-sale compromises and third parties continued to be the overwhelming way that victims hear about breaches, Verizon flagged the trend as a positive one.

Law enforcement, for example, became the top source of data breach discovery, but computer emergency response teams (CERTs) have increasingly taken part in notifying companies that they have been compromised, Marc Spitler, senior analyst at Verizon and a co-author of the report, told eWEEK.

"CERTs are becoming more active in notification," he said. "Also there is more information sharing and more threat information out there."

Released on April 22, the Verizon DBIR is an annual look into the trends in data breaches. In 2013 point-of-sale breaches have declined, while breaches resulting from Web attacks are on the rise. Point-of-sale breaches accounted for 14 percent of incidents in 2013, down from 31 percent during the preceding two years. Breaches due to Web attacks rose to 35 percent, from 21 percent in the preceding two years.

Yet, the positive trend could be due to the data set that Verizon used—consisting of almost 1,400 confirmed breaches and more than 63,000 incidents from 50 global contributing organizations. Because Verizon's data set is less reliant on companies that focus on point-of-sale security—the number of contributors has grown every year—that class of breach has less impact on the overall data.

"There certainly is an element of our data changing and growing, when you talk about decreases from a percentage standpoint," Spitler said. Yet point-of-sale attacks decreased in 2013 in absolute terms, as well, he added.

On a less cheerful note, the gap between how quickly companies detect breaches and how quickly attackers compromise systems has grown. About a quarter of firms detect breaches "within days," while almost 90 percent of breaches had happened in the same period of time. "This is not what we would like to see, obviously," Spitler said.

The report, however, does give guidance to companies on how to detect the most likely patterns of attacks. To increase their chances of detecting and quickly mitigating data breaches, companies should look to the most common types of attacks that occur in their industry and then evaluate the recommendations for defending against those attacks, Spitler said.

"If you are part of the Accommodation sector, go up and look at Accommodation and look at the classification patterns," he said. "We have more information on the common event chains, what sort of events have these patterns and then some recommendations on how to disrupt them."

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...