Security Experts:

Records Compromised in Data Breaches Skyrocketed in 2014: Research

Security firm Gemalto released a report on 2014 data breaches recently and the news was not good.

In its latest Breach Level Index report, the company revealed that one billion records were compromised last year in more than 1,500 data breaches worldwide. Compared to 2013, those numbers are an increase of nearly 80 percent in terms of data records and more than 40 percent in terms of breaches overall.

Gemalto's Breach Level Index calculates the severity of data breaches across multiple dimensions based on breach disclosure information. Among the notable attacks included in the report are the Home Depot breach, the attack on JP Morgan Chase and the attack on eBay. 

"Easily at the top of the list in terms of the number of breaches was North America with 1,164 breaches, accounting for about three quarters of all breaches (76%)," according to the report. "Those attacks involved more than 390 million records, or 38% of the total."

According to the data in the BLI, the main motive for cyber-criminals in 2014 was identity theft. Fifty-four percent of all data breaches were identity-theft related – more than any other category, including access to financial data. In addition, identity theft breaches accounted for one-third of the most serious incidents. Incidents where the compromised data was encrypted in part or in full increased from one percent to four percent.

"We're clearly seeing a shift in the tactics of cybercriminals, with long-term identity theft becoming more of a goal than the immediacy of stealing a credit card number," said Tsion Gonen, vice president of strategy for identity and data protection at Gemalto, in a statement. "Identity theft could lead to the opening of new fraudulent credit accounts, creating false identities for criminal enterprises, or a host of other serious crimes. As data breaches become more personal, we're starting to see that the universe of risk exposure for the average person is expanding." 

Broken down by industry, retail and financial services experienced the most activity compared to other sectors. Retail companies saw an increase in data breaches compared to 2013, and accounted for 11 percent of all breaches in 2014, according to the report. However, in terms of data records compromised, the percentage of retail records jumped drastically, from 29 percent to 55 percent. This was due in large part to attacks on point-of-sale systems, according to the report. 

In the case of the financial sector, the number of breaches remained relatively unchanged, though the average number of records lost per breach increased ten-fold. Overall, the number of data breaches involving more than 100 million compromised data records doubled compared to 2013. Most of the time, the malicious activity was traced to an outsider (55 percent), though 25 percent of incidents were tied to accidental loss. Fifteen percent were linked to a malicious insider. 

"Not only are data breach numbers rising, but the breaches are becoming more severe," said Gonen. "Being breached is not a question of 'if' but 'when.'  Breach prevention and threat monitoring can only go so far and do not always keep the cyber criminals out. Companies need to adopt a data-centric view of digital threats starting with better identity and access control techniques such as multi-factor authentication and the use of encryption and key management to secure sensitive data. That way, if the data is stolen it is useless to the thieves." 

The full report can be read here.

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