Contrary to the predictions of many security experts, who argue that cloud exploits, mobile device attacks and all-out cyber war will be among the most likely data breach threats governments and enterprises will face in 2013, researchers for the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) have reached a far different conclusion.
The most likely threats in 2013 will involve authentication attacks and failures, continued espionage and “hacktivism” attacks, Web application exploits and social engineering.
Our findings are based on data that spans eight years of research and thousands of case studies. And while other security experts are using anecdote and opinion for their predictions, we’re applying empirical evidence to help organizations focus on what will be truly important in the coming year.
We believe that an all-out cyber war is unlikely to occur, and that a government or enterprise’s 2013 data breach is much more likely to result from low-and-slow attacks.
Verizon’s RISK (Research, Intelligence, Solutions, Knowledge) team has identified the following most likely data threats:
1. Authentication Failure:
Topping the list – with a 90% chance of probability – are attacks and failures related to authentication, including vulnerable or stolen usernames and passwords, which often represent the initial events in a breach scenario. Nine out of 10 intrusions involved compromised identities or authentication systems. So government agencies need to make sure they have a sound process for creating, managing and monitoring user accounts and credentials for all of their systems, devices and networks.
2. Web Application Exploits:
Web application exploits, which are most likely to affect larger organizations and especially governments, rather than small to medium-sized businesses. The chances of such attacks occurring are three in four, according to the data compiled by the RISK Team. Given these odds, organizations that choose to take their chances and ignore secure application development and assessment practices in 2013 are asking for trouble.
3. Social Engineering:
Social engineering, which targets people rather than machines, relies on clever – and sometimes clumsy – deceptions to be successful. The use of social tactics like phishing increases by a factor of three for larger government organizations and enterprises. It’s impossible to eliminate all human error or weaknesses from an organization, but vigilance and education across the employee population help to control and contain such schemes.
Another critical area where larger enterprises and governments in particular must remain on high alert is targeted attacks from adversaries motivated by espionage and hacktivism. Hacktivists breaking into a computer system, for a politically or socially motivated purpose, will evolve in frequency and sophistication.
In addition, the RISK team does not foresee the failure of an organization’s cloud technology or configuration as being the root cause of a breach. However, an organization’s service provider could inadvertently increase the likelihood of a breach by failing to take appropriate actions or taking inappropriate ones.
As for mobile devices, the Verizon researchers believe that lost and stolen – and unencrypted – mobile devices will continue to far exceed hacks and malware. The RISK Team also projects that attacks on mobile devices by the criminal world will follow closely the push to mobile payments in the business and consumer world. There’s a good chance we’ll see this shift in 2013, but our researchers think mobile devices as a breach vector in larger enterprises will lag beyond 2013.
Large organizations tend to pride themselves on their security strategy and accompanying plans, but the reality is that a large federal agency or business is less likely to discover a breach itself than be notified by law enforcement. And, if you do discover it yourself, chances are it will be by accident.
Keep in mind that all of these breaches can still be an issue for governments as well as enterprises. However, what we’re saying is that widely accepted ones are over-hyped according to our historical data and are far less likely to factor into an organization’s next breach than is commonly thought.
Wade Baker is the Managing Principal of the RISK Team at Verizon and the lead author of the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report series.