Data Theft Figures Reveal Surprise Trend

Dennis Faas's picture

According to a new report from Verizon, the majority of data stolen last year was the work of "hacktivists," many of whom were hoping to send a political message.

According to security experts, this means that attacks by hackers seeking financial gain were, for the first time ever, overshadowed by other motivations for breaching security systems.

The report, called "Data Breach Investigations," details examinations by Verizon of 855 security breaches.

Ninety of the attacks were found within the ranks of Verizon's own customers, and 765 came from law enforcement agency records, including those of the US Secret Services and the British Metropolitan Police. (Source:

That's by no mean a complete account. In fact, the actual raw numbers of attacks examined aren't all that meaningful. It's the percentage breakdowns that experts believe accurately reflect the security big picture.

Attackers Aim to Disrupt Their Victims

The Verizon study found three per cent of the incidents involved "hacktivism," in which the hackers, such as Anonymous, intend to disrupt or embarrass particular companies and organizations, rather than simply commit fraud for profit.

Verizon also noted that theft of intellectual property was also increasingly becoming a significant target for hackers.

The "hacktivism" efforts were often found to be motivated by "ideological dissent and schadenfreude," which the report says "took a more prominent role across the caseload."

Although only three per cent of the attacks examined involved hacktivists, these attacks nevertheless were responsible for 58 per cent of the overall total of stolen data, just over a million records.

As a result, financial crime has now been pushed into second place. Experts can't be certain this is a genuine trend, of course, until next year's hacking activity is analyzed.

Although Verizon isn't revealing details about the individual attacks, many surmise that the attack on Sony's PlayStation Network is included in the hacktivism category. If so, that one incident would spectacularly distort the figures.

Most Hack Attacks Are Simple and Straightforward

The study also suggests most attacks involve relatively little planning or sophistication. Verizon reported that just four per cent of all the attacks examined involved particularly challenging security breaches for the hackers.

However, 79 per cent of the attacks could only be described as 'opportunistic'.

Nearly half of all the attacks involved hackers taking advantage of easy-to-guess passwords, a problem much more prevalent among smaller businesses. (Source:

Virtually all the attacks were conducted by people from outside the victim organization. Just four per cent were found to be inside jobs, and only one per cent of thefts involved an actual business partner.

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