Cybercrime thrives during pandemic: Verizon 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report

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Increase in phishing and ransomware attacks - along with continued high numbers of Web Application Attacks - underscore a year of unprecedented security challenges

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What you need to know: 

  • Report analyzes 29,207 quality incidents, of which 5,258 were confirmed breaches 
  • Phishing attacks increased by 11 percent, while attacks using ransomware rose by 6 percent 
  • 85 percent of breaches involved a human element, while over 80 percent of breaches were discovered by external parties
  • Breach simulations found the median financial impact of a breach is $21,659, with 95 percent of incidents falling between $826 and $653,587

BASKING RIDGE, N.J. - The Verizon Business 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report (2021 DBIR) examines more breaches than ever before, and sheds light on how the most common forms of cyber attacks affected the international security landscape during the global pandemic. This year’s report saw 5,258 breaches from 83 contributors across the globe, a third more breaches analyzed than last year.

With an unprecedented number of people working remotely, phishing and ransomware attacks increased by 11 percent and 6 percent respectively, with instances of Misrepresentation increasing by 15 times compared to last year. Additionally, breach data showed that 61 percent of breaches involved credential data (95 percent of organizations suffering credential stuffing attacks had between 637 and 3.3 billion malicious login attempts through the year).

The report also highlighted the challenges facing businesses as they move more of their business functions to the cloud - with attacks on web applications representing 39% of all breaches.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on many of the security challenges organizations are currently facing,” said Tami Erwin, CEO, Verizon Business. “As the number of companies switching business-critical functions to the cloud increases, the potential threat to their operations may become more pronounced, as malicious actors look to exploit human vulnerabilities and leverage an increased dependency on digital infrastructures”. 

This year, the Incident Classification Patterns the DBIR report team uses to classify security threats have also been improved and refreshed. The updated report patterns explain 95.8 percent of analyzed breaches and 99.7 percent of analyzed incidents over all time, and should provide customers with a better understanding of the threats that exist, and how their organizations can best avoid them. 

Industries under the spotlight

The 2021 DBIR includes detailed analysis of 12 industries, and shows that, while security remains a challenge across the board, there are significant differences across verticals. For example, in Financial and Insurance industries, 83 percent of data compromised in breaches was personal data, whilst in Professional, Scientific and Technical services only 49 percent was personal. Further highlights include: 

  • Financial and Insurance – Misdelivery represented 55 percent of Financial sector errors. The Financial sector frequently faces credential and Ransomware attacks from External actors.
  • Healthcare - Basic human error continues to beset this industry as it has for the past several years. The most common Error continues to be Misdelivery (36 percent), whether electronic or of paper documents.
  • Public Administration - By far the biggest threat in this industry is the social engineer. Actors who can craft a credible phishing email are absconding with Credentials data at an alarming rate in this sector.
  • Retail Trade - The Retail industry continues to be a target for Financially motivated criminals looking to cash in on the combination of Payment cards and Personal information this sector is known for. Social tactics include Pretexting and Phishing, with the former commonly resulting in fraudulent money transfers.

Regional trends

The 83 contributors involved with the 2021 DBIR have provided the report with specific insights into regional cyber-trends highlighting key similarities and differences between them.

  • Asia Pacific (APAC) - Many of the breaches that took place in APAC were caused by Financially motivated attackers Phishing employees for creds, and then using those stolen creds to gain access to mail accounts and web application servers.
  • Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) - EMEA continues to be beset by Basic Web Application Attacks, System Intrusion, and Social Engineering.
  • Northern America (NA) – NA is often the target of Financially motivated actors searching for money or easily monetizable data. Social Engineering, Hacking and Malware continue to be the favored tools utilized by actors in this region.

Alex Pinto, Lead Author of the DBIR, comments, “When you read the contents of the report, it is tempting to think that a vast array of threats demands a sweeping and revolutionary solution. However, the reality is far more straightforward. The truth is that, whilst organizations should prepare to deal with exceptional circumstances, the foundation of their defences should be built on strong fundamentals - addressing and mitigating the threats most pertinent to them.”

About the DBIR 

The 2021 DBIR - its 14th edition - analyzed 29,207 security incidents, of which 5,258 were confirmed breaches (a significant increase on the 3,950 breaches analyzed in last year’s report. Data collected from 83 contributors, with victims spanning 88 countries; 12 industries, and 3 world regions.

The complete 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report as well as Executive Summary is available on the DBIR resource page.

Join us - virtual event: Cybercrime and the pandemic - May 13 at 8amET

Join our virtual fireside chat with Nasrin Rezai (Chief Information Security Officer, Verizon), Sampath Sowmyanarayan (Chief Revenue Officer, Verizon) and Chris Novak (Director Professional Services, Verizon) as they discuss the security challenges heightened by the pandemic and the cybercrime trends that will continue to shape business security. No registration is required, click here at 8amET on May 13 to join.

Visit the DBIR landing page for a comprehensive list of all our DBIR webinars and events.

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