In case anyone doubted that data breaches are in full-court press mode, research from Gemalto has revealed that a full 1,792 data breaches led to almost 1.4 billion data records being compromised worldwide during 2016. Big events like the AdultFriendFinder breach contributed significantly to the spike.
That represents a whopping increase of 86% compared to 2015, according to Gemalto’s Breach Level Index. And further, more than 7 billion data records have been exposed since 2013 when the index began benchmarking publicly disclosed data breaches. That translates to over 3 million records compromised every day, or roughly 44 records every second.
Identity theft was the leading type of data breach in 2016, accounting for 59% of all data breaches and up by 5% from 2015. The second most prevalent type of breach in 2016 was account access-based breaches—these made up 54% of all breached records, which is an increase of 336% from the previous year. This highlights the cyber-criminal trend from financial information attacks to bigger databases with large volumes of personally identifiable information, Gemalto said in its report.
Another notable data point is the nuisance category, with an increase of 102% accounting for 18% of all breached records—this category is thus up 1,474% since 2015.
“The Breach Level Index highlights four major cyber-criminal trends over the past year,” said Jason Hart, vice president and CTO for data protection at Gemalto. “Hackers are casting a wider net and are using easily-attainable account and identity information as a starting point for high-value targets. Clearly, fraudsters are also shifting from attacks targeted at financial organizations to infiltrating large data bases such as entertainment and social media sites. Lastly, fraudsters have been using encryption to make breached data unreadable, then hold it for ransom and decrypting once they are paid.”
Speaking of encryption, last year 4.2% of the total number of breach incidents involved data that had been encrypted in part or in full, compared to 4% in 2015. In some of these instances, the password was encrypted, but other information was left unencrypted. However, of the almost 1.4 billion records compromised, lost or stolen in 2016, only 6% were encrypted partially or in full (compared to 2% in 2015).
"Knowing exactly where their data resides and who has access to it will help enterprises outline security strategies based on data categories that make the most sense for their organizations,” Hart said. “Encryption and authentication are no longer ‘best practices’ but necessities. This is especially true with new and updated government mandates like the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, US state-based and APAC country-based breach disclosure laws. But it’s also about protecting your business’ data integrity, so the right decisions can be made based on accurate information, therefore protecting your reputation and your profits.”
The Breach Level Index also measures the severity of breaches based on multiple dimensions, including the number of records compromised, the type of data, the source of the breach, how the data was used, and whether or not the data was encrypted. By assigning a severity score to each breach, the Breach Level Index provides a comparative list of breaches, distinguishing data breaches that are a not serious versus those that are truly impactful (scores run 1-10).
Last year, the account access-based attack on AdultFriendFinder exposing 400 million records scored a 10 in terms of severity on the Breach Level Index. Other notable breaches in 2016 included Fling (BLI: 9.8), Philippines' Commission on Elections (COMELEC) (BLI: 9.8), 17 Media (BLI: 9.7) and Dailymotion (BLI: 9.6). The top 10 breaches in terms of severity accounted for over half of all compromised records.
While Yahoo! reported two major data breaches involving 1.5 billion user accounts, these were not accounted for in the BLI’s 2016 numbers, since they occurred in 2013 and 2014. Also, 52% of the data breaches in 2016 did not disclose the number of compromised records at the time they were reported.
The report also found that malicious outsiders were the leading source of data breaches, accounting for 68%, up from 13% in 2015. The number of records breached in malicious outsider attacks increased by 286% from 2015. Hacktivist data breaches also increased in 2016 by 31%, but only account for 3% of all breaches that occurred last year.
Across industries, the technology sector had the largest increase in data breaches in 2016. Breaches rose 55%, but only accounted for 11% of all breaches last year. Almost 80% of the breaches in this sector were account access and identity theft related. They also represented 28% of compromised records in 2016, an increase of 278% from 2015.
The healthcare industry accounted for 28% of data breaches, rising 11% compared to 2015. However, the number of compromised data records in healthcare decreased by 75% since 2015. Education saw a 5% decrease in data breaches between 2015 and 2016 and a drop of 78% in compromised data records. Government accounted for 15% of all data breaches in 2016. However, the number of compromised data records increased 27% from 2015. Financial services companies accounted for 12% of all data breaches, a 23% decline compared to the previous year.