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Analysis of data breaches discovers decline in 2012

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The number of data breaches in 2012 is down in comparison with 2011, but the number of people impacted is up.

The findings were drawn from the data breach section of Symantec's Norton Cybercrime Index (CCI) and discovered that the 2011 average number of breaches per month was 16.5, while in 2012 this number dropped to 14.

In the periods evaluated: late spring 2011 to the end of the year and January to August in 2012, the report found that in the 2011 period the average number of identities stolen was 1,311,629 per data breach, yet in the 2012 period this number was down to 640,169 identities per breach.

Symantec's intelligence report for August 2012 said that this was due to the fact that the number of records stolen in the biggest attacks in 2011 was much larger, despite the overall number of attacks being about equal. “The top five breaches in our 2011 data set all registered in the tens of millions of identities. In 2012, only one breach registered above ten million,” said Paul Wood, cyber security intelligence manager at Symantec.

“It's tough to say exactly why there were fewer breaches of this size. It could indicate that after a few high-profile hacks in 2011, many large companies took steps to shelter their customer record databases from internet attacks. It could also be that hackers aren't going after the largest data breaches they can pull off, but rather smaller breaches that contain more sensitive information.”

Wood also said that while the sheer number of attacks so far in 2012 has dropped, this does not mean that the threat has passed, rather it is possible that data breaches have simply become more targeted.

Looking at the median number of identities per breach, this shows a rise from 4,000 per breach in 2011 to 6,800 per breach in 2012, a rise of 41 per cent.

Wood said: “This shows that while the overall average number of identities stolen is down, the core number of identities stolen, when accounting for variance, is increasing over time. This could indicate that the attackers are going after more select, targeted batches of data, as opposed to making off with big-number caches of data. The information that they are stealing could very well be smaller in size, but more useful for criminal activities.”

Wood said that there is a wild variance in the number of records from one breach to the next, as in the case of Sony Pictures where over a million identities were stolen, while some other breaches saw fewer than ten identities stolen.

Symantec found that the healthcare industry tops the list for number of overall breaches, with 34.1 per cent of the overall number of breaches reported, yet this sector is only responsible for 2.7 per cent of the overall number of identities exposed.

“Given the sensitive nature of medical records, this is a perfect example of a high number of attacks that result in small numbers of highly sensitive records being exposed,” Wood said.

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