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‘Anonymous’ Legacy: Hacktivists Stole More Data Than Organized Crime In 2011 Breaches Worldwide

Posted by on March 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

New Verizon Data Breach Intelligence Report finds 58 percent of all data stolen was the result of hacktivist attacks — but, overall, traditional cybercriminals executed the largest number of actual breaches.

Turns out the minority of attackers last year — namely Anonymous — wreaked the most damage when it came to data breaches worldwide, accounting for more than half of all compromised records, according to the newly published 2012 Verizon Data Breach Intelligence Report (DBIR).

It’s no surprise that hacktivism played a major role in this year’s report: The Anonymous hacking collective last year targeted multiple high-profile targets, including Sony, Fox, PBS, HBGary Federal, and multiple law enforcement agencies. But the Verizon report for the first time quantifies the data exposure as a result of the hacktivist-driven attacks. This year’s report encompasses 855 data breaches and 174 million stolen data records, including breach data from Verizon, the U.S. Secret Service, the Dutch National High Tech Crime Unit, the Australian Federal Police, the Irish Reporting & Information Security Service, and the Police Central e-Crime Unit of the London Metropolitan Police.

Hacktivists represented only 2 to 3 percent of the attackers in the breaches covered in the study, but they were still responsible for the breach of 58 percent of the data records, says Chris Porter, a principal with the Verizon RISK team. Overall, more than 100 million records were stolen by hacktivists, according to the report, but organized crime was the most prolific attacker, accounting for 83 percent of the breaches while stealing 35 percent of the data records overall in the study.

Perhaps most telling is how this new data illustrates the shift in hacktivism over the past year from website defacements and pure distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks for making a statement or disrupting websites, to inflicting damage and embarrassment on the organization and its members and affiliates by “doxing” their emails, passwords, or other sensitive information. “This was a new trend last year in hacktivism. We’ve had these attacks all the time, but they typically don’t steal data,” Porter says. “This is the new trend of [hacktivists] breaking into an organization and stealing data and trying to embarrass them. Then others can use this for fraud.”

In cases where Anonymous ran rainbow tables against password files and posted them on Pastebin or shared them among others online, that left these credentials vulnerable to organized crime groups to use for their own nefarious purposes, Porter says.

“Hacktivists were low in frequency compared with other data breaches we see … especially organized crime,” Porter says. “Organized crime was a much higher frequency [of attacker], but we found it fascinating that hacktivists stole more data than organized crime.”

And that was a major shift from previous Verizon DBIR reports, which concluded that cybercriminals looking for financial gain were the main players in breaches.

“A very few were taking a lot — that disproportion” was interesting, says Amy DeCarlo, a principal analyst with Current Analysis. “Certainly, with what’s been happening geopolitically, it’s not all that surprising. But it is surprising when you think about how significant that change has been in just a year.”

Just how the high-profile arrests last summer and then over the past few weeks of alleged key members of the LulzSec splinter group of Anonymous that led much of the data breaching activity from the hacktivist group last year will shape this year’s data breach data is unclear. “I think most of the hacktivist cases we saw or our partners saw were at the beginning of the year through the summer,” Verizon’s Porter says. “There were fewer later in the year, so we may see a downward trend [in the next report]. We’ll have to see.”

Breaches included in the report came from 36 different countries, with 70 percent originating from Eastern Europe, and less than 25 percent coming out of North America.

Nearly all (98 percent) of all attacks came from outsiders, which include organized crime, activist groups, former employees, solo hackers, and foreign government-sponsored hackers. Insider-borne attacks dropped to 4 percent last year, and business partners accounted for less than 1 percent of breaches.

Despite the data damage invoked by Anonymous and other hacktivists, organized crime groups are still king when it comes to breaches. The report found that organized crime groups have automated their attack processes and tend to target smaller organizations. “They are searching the Net and looking for remote services … this entire process has been automated end to end almost,” Verizon’s Porter says. “They find remote services and try passwords. They [go after] known, guessable credentials, and if they are successful, they log in and use an automated installation of malware like a keylogger to collect information and automatically send it outside to the organization, or email, or website or FTP it to a drop server somewhere.”

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