Incident Classification Patterns: Introduction

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Pareidolia is a fancy word for seeing patterns in nature—clouds that look like bunnies, a face in your toast looking back at you from your breakfast plate, etc. As we have said before in this report, the human mind looks for patterns even when they are not actually there.53 People simply need patterns to make sense of their world, and the realm of cybersecurity is no different. Several years ago, we realized that certain incidents appear to happen over and over again in clusters that share certain similar characteristics. From that realization, we devised our incident patterns that we have featured in our report for the last several years.

These incident patterns serve to cluster similar incidents into categories that make them easier to understand and recall. They are based on the 4As of VERIS (Actor, Action, Asset, Attribute), which you can read more about in the “Results and analysis” section earlier in this report.54 The incident classification patterns, of which there are eight, are defined in Table 1, and Figure 26 below shows how they have changed over time in incidents.

Data Breach Investigation Report figure 26
Data Breach Investigation Report figure 27

We are once again featuring relevant ATT&CK techniques55 and Center for Internet Security (CIS) Critical Security Controls56 relevant to certain patterns.

Figure 27 illustrates how the various patterns have ebbed and flowed over the last few years in breaches. As you can see, System Intrusion continues to be the top pattern from a breach perspective (as opposed to incidents, where DoS attacks are still king). Both the Social Engineering and Miscellaneous Errors patterns have risen appreciably, particularly the latter, since last year. Conversely, the Basic Web Application Attacks pattern has fallen dramatically from its place in the 2023 DBIR. We get to delve into the reasons for these fluctuations further along in this section.

Basic Web Application Attacks


These attacks are against a Web application, and after the initial compromise, they do not have a large number of additional Actions. It is the “get in, get the data and get out” pattern.

Denial of Service


These attacks are intended to compromise the availability of networks and systems. This includes both network and application layer attacks.

Lost and Stolen Assets


Incidents where an information asset went missing, whether through misplacement or malice, are grouped into this pattern.

Miscellaneous Errors


Incidents where unintentional actions directly compromised a security attribute of an information asset fall into this pattern. This does not include lost devices, which are grouped with theft instead.

Privilege Misuse


These incidents are predominantly driven by unapproved or malicious use of legitimate privileges.

Social Engineering


This attack involves the psychological compromise of a person that alters their behavior into taking an action or breaching confidentiality.

System Intrusion


These are complex attacks that leverage malware and/or hacking to achieve their objectives, including deploying Ransomware.

Everything Else


This “pattern” isn’t really a pattern at all. Instead, it covers all incidents that don’t fit within the orderly confines of the other patterns. Like that container where you keep all the cables for electronics you don’t own anymore—just in case.

Table 1. Incident Classification Patterns

53 We are pretty sure the toast face is real though.

54 You did read it, right? You are not just skimming the report, are you?




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