Cyber espionage “rampant”, US investigation finds

By on 15/05/2019
Behind the mask: foreign governments were behind over three quarters of external data breaches, Verizon’s report says (Image courtesy: TheDigitalArtist/pixabay).

Cyber espionage against governments around the world is growing year-on-year, “with state-affiliated actors accounting for 79 percent of all breaches involving external actors”, according to the 12th edition of the Verizon Data Breach Investigations report, which was released last week.

The communications technology company examined data from 73 sources in the public and private sectors, spanning 86 countries worldwide.

Within the public sector, it found 23,399 recorded incidents, in 330 of which data disclosure was confirmed. “Cyber-Espionage is rampant in the public sector,” the report said, forming the top threat in 2018 – up dramatically compared with 2017 data.

Breaches up by two thirds

“While the cyber-espionage pattern was also the most prominent in this industry in last year’s report, the number of breaches in the cyber-espionage pattern is 168% of last year’s amount,” the researchers said.

Privilege misuse and error by insiders accounted for 30% of public sector breaches.

“Given the sheer number of incidents in this sector, you would think that the government incident responders must either be cape-and-tights-wearing superheroes, or so stressed they’re barely hanging on by their fingernails,” analysts wrote in the report.

Hidden crimes

Data breaches in the public sector are also more likely to be going under the radar for months or, in many cases, even longer. “Public breaches are over 2.5 times more likely to be undiscovered for years,” it said.

“Espionage-related breaches typically do take longer to discover due to the lack of external fraud detection,” researchers found, though they lacked sufficient data to derive “breach timeline metrics.” Breaches often remained undiscovered for long periods in cases of privilege misuse – meaning that public sector staff have, accidentally or deliberately, permitted unauthorised access.

Phishing emails, malware and hacking were the most common causes of privilege misuse in the public sector, suggesting inadequate training and cyber-security practices.

The public administration data was part of the wider Verizon study examining 41,686 security incidents (defined as an “event that compromises the integrity, confidentiality or availability of an information asset”) and 2,013 data breaches, where data was disclosed to an unauthorised party.

About Natalie Leal

Natalie Leal is an NCTJ qualified journalist based in the UK. She holds a BSc and Master's degree in Social Anthropology and writes about society, poverty, politics, welfare reform, innovation and sustainable business. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, Positive News, The Brighton Argus, UCAS, Welfare Weekly, Bdaily News and more.

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