Reported Data Breaches Down by 52% in 2020

Reports of data breaches are down by 52% year-on-year in the first half of 2020.

According to research by Risk Based Security, whilst the number of reported data breaches are down, the number of records exposed is more than four-times higher than any previously reported time period.

“The striking differences between 2020 and prior years brings up many questions,” commented Inga Goddijn, executive vice-president at Risk Based Security. “Why is the breach count low compared to prior years? What is driving the growth in the number of records exposed? Perhaps most importantly, is this a permanent change in the data breach landscape?”

According to the research, there were 2037 publicly reported breaches through to June 30, accounting for a 52% decrease compared to the first six months of 2019 and 19% below the same time period for 2018. By mid-year 2019, there had been 4298 breaches reported.

The main cause of data breaches in the first half of this year were misconfigured databases and services. Over 27 billion records were exposed between January 1 2020 and June 30 2020, exceeding the total number of records exposed during all of 2019 by more than 12 billion records.

In an email to Infosecurity, HaveIBeenPwned? founder Troy Hunt said there is an issue around data breaches, as “we only ever know about the tip of the data breach iceberg and there’s frequently a long lead time between breach and discovery.”

He added: “Depending on how you measure it, I’m sure one could easily show the trend going the other way too; I normally load a new breach into HIBP once every four days but added 16 in a two-week period over late July and early August due to the ShinyHunters incidents.”

Steven Furnell, professor of cybersecurity at the University of Nottingham, said his instinct is that we’re not necessarily seeing a decrease of breach events, “but more likely that attention has been distracted by the pressing demands of COVID-19 and the transition to home working.”

He suspected that certain things are also going to be more difficult to monitor and capture in the home working context, “and I so I imagine that some events may not come to light as quickly or clearly as would otherwise have been the case.

“Given that organizations will have differed quite widely in their prior positioning for home working (e.g. whether they had any policy in place to guide staff, and had done any related training and awareness), it is likely that many will have had staff fending for themselves to a greater degree than normal, and potentially left exposed in the process,” Furnell said. “So, it seems unlikely that breaches would have really decreased in this ‘less controlled’ context compared to what happens in the normal workplace setting.”

Last week’s research released by CI Security analyzed data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, and found healthcare breach reports in the first half of this year were down 10.4% compared to the second half of 2019, with the number of breached records falling by nearly 83%.

Robert Meyers, channel solutions architect at One Identity, also suspected the numbers had decreased due to lower reporting. “The reason is simple, the world changed,” Meyers said. “The COVID-19 outbreak changed the way organizations work, and shifted everyone’s priorities. So, while things may have calmed back down and organizations may have settled into their new, remote working set-up, we can expect a rise in breaches reported in the second half of the year, and an artificially low number in the first half of the year.”

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