By Quentin Fottrell
The recent data breach at marketing company Epsilon, where a rogue third party accessed customer email addresses, made consumers painfully aware that their personal details may be vulnerable to attack by cyber criminals. In the wake of that incident, Verizon’s 2011 Data Breach Investigation Report, which was carried out with the U.S. Secret Service, might come as some relief. The bad news: the number of data breaches soared last year. The good news: the number of actual records compromised plummeted.
Confused? Still worried? Think of it this way: a data breach is the online equivalent to someone breaking into your house. A record being compromised is when that burglar actually manages to steal something, in this case social security numbers or credit card details. So while the amount of breaches (or break-ins) spiked to 760 last year from 141 in 2009, the amount of compromised records fell to 3.8 million last year from 144 million in 2009 and a staggering 361 million in 2008, according to the report.
Break-ins are up, but stolen information is down, thanks in part to cyber criminals losing their taste for bigger fish after a series of high-profile arrests, explains Wade Baker, director of risk intelligence at Verizon and primary author of the report. “Rather than massive breaches against large organizations like we’ve seen in the past, we saw a huge number of lighter, faster, and more surgical strikes against smaller organizations,” he says. “Since many of the criminals behind those larger thefts are in jail, this trend may represent a tactical shift toward less risky and lower-hanging fruit.
The project itself may seem like an odd one for Verizon. Not many companies want the their name in the same sentence as the words “data breach,” even if it’s part of a report aimed at increasing public awareness. According to Baker: “We also hope that you will recognize it as a proof point that sensitive data can be shared anonymously, responsibly, securely, and effectively between organizations. Our field is in desperate need of more high-quality accessible data and collaborating among ourselves is the only way we’re going to get there.”
Do you feel better about sharing your personal information with your bank or cable operator now?