Ransomware attacks on the rise and universities under increased attack, finds Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report

Over half of all cyber-attacks are now being conducted by organised criminal groups with financial gain being a major motive behind such crimes, notes the latest Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report.

The Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report reveals that hackers are mostly targeting smaller businesses with less than 1,000 employees and are majorly exploiting weak or stolen passwords and poor security protocols.

Availability of better hacking tools and a lust for money has led cyber-criminals to conduct more ransomware operations, with the latter rising from being the 22nd most common variety of malware in 2014 to becoming the 5th most common last year.

Ransomware is a kind of malware used by cyber-criminals to extort money from victims. In 2016, ransomware incidents rose by 50% compared to the previous year. This is because not only are most businesses not keen on the latest security solutions, they’re opting to pay ransom demands instead of investing more on security. Because of this, there is no effective deterrent against such attacks.

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The Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report obtained its data from 65 organisations from across the world and also featured results of analysis on 42,068 incidents and 1,935 breaches from 84 countries. Among all affected enterprises, a quarter of them were financial institutions, 15% were healthcare organisations, 12% were public sector entities and 15% were related to retail and accommodation.

The most worrying fact in the report is that almost 81 per cent, or 4 out of 5, of all hacking-related breaches were leveraged through stolen or weak passwords. The report also revealed the modus operandi of most hacking groups. Out of 42,068 incidents and 1,935 breaches, two-thirds of them were initiated via e-mails. Once gullible users clicked on links or attachments in those e-mails, hackers took control of their systems and installed malicious software to obtain protected or confidential data.

Such phishing attacks using e-mails now constitute 21% of all security incidents, thanks to an encouraging success rate of 7.3 per cent and the fact that several victims fell for the trap not once, but twice.

“Cybercriminals concentrate on four key drivers of human behaviour to encourage individuals to disclose information: eagerness, distraction, curiosity and uncertainty. And as our report shows, it is working, with a significant increase in both phishing and pretexting this year," said Bryan Sartin, executive director, Global Security Services, Verizon Enterprise Solutions.

"Social engineering is a common means for cybercriminals to establish a foothold. And employees are making this easy by using easy-to-guess passwords. Users, and even IT departments, are even often guilty of not changing the default passwords that devices come with, and can easily be looked up online. This means a lot of the breaches we’ve seen were avoidable, if organizations had put in place some basic security measures," the report added.

“Our report demonstrates that there is no such thing as an impenetrable system, but doing the basics well makes a real difference. Often, even a basic defence will deter cybercriminals who will move on to look for an easier target," he added.

The Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report has listed out several actions which businesses must employ to ward off cyber-espionage and ransomware attacks. These include changing management systems regularly, training staff to recognise phishing attempts, using two-factor authentication, ensuring physical data security and constantly updating security software with patches and encrypting confidential data.

Businesses must also keep close tabs on employee activities since 60% of all cyber-espionage cases involve people inside organisations. Common motives for employees to steal data include taking data to a new employer, starting rival companies or selling such data for money.