Verizon 2011 Data Breach Investigations Report: Breaches Increased Dramatically While Data Loss Was at All-Time Low

Cyber Criminals Shifting to Smaller, More Opportunistic Attacks; External Attacks, Especially Hacking, on Rise

April 19, 2011

NEW YORK – Data loss through cyber attacks decreased sharply in 2010, but the total number of breaches was higher than ever, according to the “Verizon 2011 Data Breach Investigations Report.” These findings continue to demonstrate that businesses and consumers must remain vigilant in implementing and maintaining security practices.

The number of compromised records involved in data breaches investigated by Verizon and the U.S. Secret Service dropped from 144 million in 2009 to only 4 million in 2010, representing the lowest volume of data loss since the report’s launch in 2008. Yet this year’s report covers approximately 760 data breaches, the largest caseload to date.

According to the report, the seeming contradiction between the low data loss and the high number of breaches likely stems from a significant decline in large-scale breaches, caused by a change in tactics by cybercriminals. They are engaging in small, opportunistic attacks rather than large-scale, difficult attacks and are using relatively unsophisticated methods to successfully penetrate organizations. For example, only 3 percent of breaches were considered unavoidable without extremely difficult or expensive corrective action.

The report also found that outsiders are responsible for 92 percent of breaches, a significant increase from the 2010 findings. Although the percentage of insider attacks decreased significantly over the previous year (16 percent versus 49 percent), this is largely due to the huge increase in smaller external attacks. As a result, the total number of insider attacks actually remained relatively constant.

Hacking (50 percent) and malware (49 percent) were the most prominent types of attack, with many of those attacks involving weak or stolen credentials and passwords. For the first time, physical attacks — such as compromising ATMs –appeared as one of the three most common ways to steal information, and constituted 29 percent of all cases investigated.

For the second year in a row, the U.S. Secret Service collaborated with Verizon in preparing the report. In addition, the National High Tech Crime Unit of the Netherlands Policy Agency (KLPD) joined the team this year, allowing Verizon to provide more insight into cases originating in Europe. Approximately one-third of Verizon’s cases originated in either Europe or the Asia-Pacific region, reflecting the global nature of data breaches.

“Through our Data Breach Investigations Report series, Verizon continues to provide the industry with a first-hand look at cybercrime around the globe,” said Peter Tippett, Verizon’s vice president of security and industry solutions. “This year, we witnessed highly automated and prolific external attacks, low and slow attacks, intricate internal fraud rings, countrywide device-tampering schemes, cunning social engineering plots and more. And yet, at the end of day, we found once again that the vast majority of breaches can be avoided without extremely difficult, expensive security measures.”

Tippett added: “It is important to remember that data breaches can happen to any business — regardless of size or industry — or consumer, at any place in the world. A good offense remains the best defense. It is imperative to implement essential security measures broadly throughout your security infrastructure, whether that is a small home setup or an expansive enterprise infrastructure.”

U.S. Secret Service Assistant Director A.T. Smith said, “Americans over the past several years have seen the significant impacts data breaches are having on our nation’s financial infrastructure. Today cyber criminals are operating in nearly every civilized nation in the world, exposing Americans’ personal information, either stored or transmitted, to substantial risk.”

Smith added, “By participating in the Verizon 2011 Data Breach Investigations Report, the Secret Service is working closely with our private-sector partners to educate Americans about the threats of cyber criminals. With the help of our Electronic Crimes Task Force partners, such as Verizon, we are studying technologies and trends to prevent and mitigate attacks against critical financial infrastructure.”

The Data Breach Investigation Report (DBIR) series now spans seven years and more than 1,700 breaches involving more than 900 million compromised records, making it the most comprehensive study of its kind.

(NOTE: Additional resources supporting the 2011 Data Breach Investigations Report are available, including high-resolution charts and an audio podcast. B-roll available upon request.)

Key Findings of the 2011 Report

Data from the 2011 report shows that:

  • Large-scale breaches dropped dramatically while small attacks increased. The report notes there are several possible reasons for this trend, including the fact that small to medium-sized businesses represent prime attack targets for many hackers, who favor highly automated, repeatable attacks against these more vulnerable targets, possibly because criminals are opting to play it safe in light of recent arrests and prosecutions of high-profile hackers.
  • Outsiders are responsible for most data breaches. Ninety-two percent of data breaches were caused by external sources. Contrary to the malicious-employee stereotype, insiders were responsible for only 16 percent of attacks. Partner-related attacks continued to decline, and business partners accounted for less than 1 percent of breaches.
  • Physical attacks are on the rise. After doubling as a percentage of all breaches in 2009, attacks involving physical actions doubled again in 2010, and included manipulating common credit-card devices such as ATMs, gas pumps and point-of-sale terminals. The data indicates that organized crime groups are responsible for most of these card-skimming schemes.
  • Hacking and malware is the most popular attack method. Malware was a factor in about half of the 2010 caseload and was responsible for almost 80 percent of lost data. The most common kinds of malware found in the caseload were those involving sending data to an external entity, opening backdoors, and keylogger functionalities.
  • Stolen passwords and credentials are out of control. Ineffective, weak or stolen credentials continue to wreak havoc on enterprise security. Failure to change default credentials remains an issue, particularly in the financial services, retail and hospitality industries.

Recommendations for Enterprises

The 2011 report found again that the prescription for data breaches is to use simple, essential security practices such as:

  • Focus on essential controls. Many enterprises make the mistake of pursuing exceptionally high security in certain areas while almost completely neglecting others. Businesses are much better protected if they implement essential controls across the entire organization without exception.
  • Eliminate unnecessary data. If you do not need it, do not keep it. For data that must be kept, identify, monitor and securely store it.
  • Secure remote access services. Restrict these services to specific IP addresses and networks, minimizing public access to them. Also, ensure that your enterprise is limiting access to sensitive information within the network.
  • Audit user accounts and monitor users with privileged identity. The best approach is to trust users but monitor them through pre-employment screening, limiting user privileges and using separation of duties. Managers should provide direction, as well as supervise employees to ensure they are following security policies and procedures.
  • Monitor and mine event logs. Focus on the obvious issues that logs pick up, not the minutia. Reducing the compromise-to-discovery timeframe from weeks and months to days can pay huge dividends.
  • Be aware of physical security assets. Pay close attention to payment card input devices, such as ATMs and gas pumps, for tampering and manipulation.

A complete copy of the “Data Breach Investigations Report” is available for download.

About Verizon
Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE, NASDAQ:VZ), headquartered in New York, is a global leader in delivering broadband and other wireless and wireline communications services to mass market, business, government and wholesale customers. Verizon Wireless operates America’s most reliable wireless network, serving 94.1 million customers nationwide. Verizon also provides converged communications, information and entertainment services over America’s most advanced fiber-optic network, and delivers innovative, seamless business solutions to customers around the world. A Dow 30 company, Verizon employs a diverse workforce of more than 194,000 and last year generated consolidated revenues of $106.6 billion. For more information, visit

2010 Data Breach Report From Verizon Business, U.S. Secret Service Offers New Cybercrime Insights

Expanded Study Finds More Insider Threats, Greater Use of Social Engineering, Continued Strong Organized Criminal Involvement

BASKING RIDGE, N.J. – July 28, 2010 –

The 2010 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, based on a first-of-its kind collaboration with the U.S. Secret Service, has found that breaches of electronic records last year involved more insider threats, greater use of social engineering and the continued strong involvement of organized criminal groups.

The study, released Wednesday (July 28), also noted that the overall number of breaches investigated last year declined from the total for the previous year – “a promising” indication, the study said.

The report cited stolen credentials as the most common way of gaining unauthorized access into organizations in 2009, pointing once again to the importance of strong security practices both for individuals and organizations.  Organized criminal groups were responsible for 85 percent of all stolen data last year, the report said.

Verizon Business investigative experts found, as they did in the company’s prior data breach reports, that most breaches were considered avoidable if security basics had been followed.  Only 4 percent of breaches assessed required difficult and expensive protective measures.

The 2010 report concluded that being prepared remains the best defense against security breaches. For the most part, organizations still remain sluggish in detecting and responding to incidents. Most breaches (60 percent) continue to be discovered by external parties and then only after a considerable amount of time.  And while most victimized organizations have evidence of a breach in their security logs, they often overlook them due to a lack of staff, tools or processes.

The collaboration with the Secret Service, announced in May, enabled this year’s Data Breach Investigations Report to provide an expanded view of data breaches over the last six years. With the addition of Verizon’s 2009 caseload and data contributed by the Secret Service – which investigates financial crimes – the report covers 900-plus breaches involving more than 900 million compromised records.

“This year we were able to significantly widen our window into the dynamic world of data breaches, granting us an even broader and deeper perspective,” said Peter Tippett, Verizon Business vice president of technology and enterprise innovation.   “By including information from the Secret Service caseload, we are expanding both our understanding of cybercrime and our ability to stop breaches.”

Michael Merritt, Secret Service assistant director for investigations, said: “The Secret Service believes that building trusted partnerships between all levels of law enforcement, the private sector and academia has been a proven and successful model for facing the challenges of securing cyberspace.  It is through our collaborative approach with established partnerships that the Secret Service is able to help expand the collective understanding of breaches and continue to augment our advanced detection and prevention efforts.”

(NOTE: Additional resources supporting the 2010 data breach report are available, including an audio podcast, video podcast and high-resolution charts and graphs.)

Key Findings of the 2010 Report

This year’s key findings both reinforce prior conclusions and offer new insights. These include:

  • Most data breaches investigated were caused by external sources. Sixty-nine percent of breaches resulted from these sources, while only 11 percent were linked to business partners.  Forty-nine percent were caused by insiders, which is an increase over previous report findings, primarily due in part to an expanded dataset and the types of cases studied by the Secret Service.
  • Many breaches involved privilege misuse. Forty-eight percent of breaches were attributed to users who, for malicious purposes, abused their right to access corporate information.  An additional 40 percent of breaches were the result of hacking, while 28 percent were due to social tactics and 14 percent to physical attacks.
  • Commonalities continue across breaches. As in previous years, nearly all data was breached from servers and online applications. Eight-five percent of the breaches were not considered highly difficult, and 87 percent of victims had evidence of the breach in their log files, yet missed it.
  • Meeting PCI-DSS compliance still critically important. Seventy-nine percent of victims subject to the PCI-DSS standard hadn’t achieved compliance prior to the breach.

The State of Cybercrime: 2010

The report said the decline in the overall number of data breaches may be due to a number of factors, including “law enforcement’s effectiveness in capturing criminals.”  The report cited the arrest of Albert Gonzalez, one of the world’s most notorious computer hackers, who pleaded guilty to helping run a global ring that stole hundreds of millions of payment card numbers and who was sentenced last year to 20 years in prison.

“The reduction in breaches is a positive sign that we are gaining some ground in the fight against cybercrime,” said Tippett.  “As we are able to share more information through the use of the VERIS security research framework to gather comparative security data such as the caseload of the Secret Service, we believe we will be even better equipped to arm organizations with best practices, processes, tools and services that will continue to make a difference.”

Data breaches continue to occur within all types of organizations. Financial services, hospitality and retail still comprise the “Big Three” of industries affected (33 percent, 23 percent and 15 percent, respectively) in the merged Verizon-Secret Service dataset, though tech services edged out retail in Verizon’s caseload.  A growing percentage of cases and an astounding 94 percent of all compromised records in 2009 were attributable to financial services.

More than half of the breaches investigated by Verizon in 2009 occurred outside the U.S., while the bulk of the breaches investigated by the Secret Service occurred in the U.S.  The report finds no correlation between an organization’s size and its chances of suffering a data breach.

“Thieves are more likely to select targets based on the perceived value of the data and cost of attack than victim characteristics such as size,” Verizon researchers noted.

Recommendations for Enterprises

The 2010 study once again shows that simple actions, when done diligently and continually, can reap big benefits. These actions include:

  • Restrict and monitor privileged users. The data from the Secret Service showed that there were more insider breaches than ever before. Insiders, especially highly privileged ones, can be difficult to control. The best strategies are to trust but verify by using pre-employment screening; limit user privileges; and employ separation of duties. Privileged use should be logged and messages detailing activity generated to management.
  • Watch for ‘Minor’ Policy Violations. The study finds a correlation between seemingly minor policy violations and more serious abuse. This suggests that organizations should be wary of and adequately respond to all violations of an organization’s policies.  Based on case data, the presence of illegal content on user systems or other inappropriate behavior is a reasonable indicator of a future breach. Actively searching for such indicators may prove even more effective.
  • Implement Measures to Thwart Stolen Credentials. Keeping credential-capturing malware off systems is priority No. 1. Consider two-factor authentication where appropriate. If possible, implement time-of-use rules, IP blacklisting and restricting administrative connections.
  • Monitor and Filter  Outbound Traffic. At some point during the sequence of events in many breaches, something (data, communications, connections) goes out externally via an organization’s network that, if prevented, could break the chain and stop the breach. By monitoring, understanding and controlling outbound traffic, an organization can greatly increase its chances of mitigating malicious activity.
  • Change Your Approach to Event Monitoring and Log Analysis. Almost all victims have evidence of the breach in their logs. It doesn’t take much to figure out that something is amiss and make needed changes.  Organizations should make time to review more thoroughly batch-processed data and analysis of logs. Make sure there are enough people, adequate tools and sufficient processes in place to recognize and respond to anomalies.
  • Share Incident Information. An organization’s ability to fully protect itself is based on the information available to do so.  Verizon believes the availability and sharing of information are crucial in the fight against cybercrime.  We commend all those organizations that take part in this effort, through such data-sharing programs as the Verizon VERIS Framework.A complete copy of the “2010 Data Breach Investigations Report” is available at

About the United States Secret Service
Well known for protecting the nation’s leaders, the U.S. Secret Service also is responsible for protecting America’s financial infrastructure.  The Secret Service has taken a lead role in mitigating the threat of financial crimes since the agency’s inception in 1865.  As technology has evolved, the scope of the U.S. Secret Service’s mission has expanded from its original counterfeit currency investigations to also include emerging financial crimes.   As a component agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Secret Service has established successful partnerships in both the law enforcement and business communities – across the country and around the world – in order to effectively combat financial crimes.

About Verizon Business
Verizon Business, a unit of Verizon Communications (NYSE, NASDAQ: VZ), is a global leader in communications and IT solutions. We combine professional expertise with one of the world’s most connected IP networks to deliver award-winning communications, IT, information security and network solutions.  We securely connect today’s extended enterprises of widespread and mobile customers, partners, suppliers and employees – enabling them to increase productivity and efficiency and help preserve the environment.  Many of the world’s largest businesses and governments – including 96 percent of the Fortune 1000 and thousands of government agencies and educational institutions – rely on our professional and managed services and network technologies to accelerate their business. Find out more at