73% of Businesses Suffered a Data Breach Linked to a Phishing Attack in the Past 12 Months

Ransomware attacks have increased significantly during the past year, but phishing attacks continue to cause problems for businesses, according to a recent survey conducted by Arlington Research on behalf of security firm Egress. Almost three quarters (73%) of surveyed businesses said they had experienced a phishing related data breach in the past 12 months.

The survey for the 2021 Insider Data Breach Report was conducted on 500 IT leaders and 3,000 employees in the United States and United Kingdom. The survey revealed 74% of organizations had experienced a data breach as a result of employees breaking the rules, something that has not been helped by the pandemic when many employees have been working remotely. More than half (53%) of IT leaders said remote work had increased risk, with 53% reporting an increase in phishing incidents in the past year.

The increased risk from remote working is of concern, especially as many organizations plan to continue to support remote working or adopt a hybrid working model in the future. 50% of IT leaders believe remote/hybrid working will make it harder to prevent data breaches from malicious email attacks. There appears to be a disconnect, as only 61% of employees believe they are less likely or equally likely to cause a data breach when working from home.

Phishing attacks are naturally bad for organizations but there is also a human cost. In 23% of organizations, employees who fell for a phishing email that resulted in a data breach were either fired or voluntarily left after the incident.

“Organizations are being bombarded by sophisticated phishing attacks. Hackers are crafting highly targeted campaigns that use clever social engineering tricks to gain access to organizations’ most sensitive data, as well as leapfrog into their supply chain. Phishing is also the most common entry point for ransomware, with potentially devastating consequences,” said Egress VP of Threat Intelligence Jack Chapman. “Remote working has also made employees even more vulnerable. With many organizations planning for a remote or hybrid future, phishing is a risk that must remain central to any security team’s plans for securing their workforce.”

The survey revealed an astonishing 94% of businesses had experienced an insider data breach in the past year. 84% of IT leaders said human error was the leading cause of insider breaches, although 28% said malicious insider breaches were their biggest fear.

89% of insider incidents had repercussions for the employees in question; however, an overwhelming majority (97%) of employees said they would report a breach they had caused, which is reassuring considering 55% of IT leaders said they rely on employees to alert them to security incidents.

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Healthcare Industry has Highest Number of Reported Data Breaches in 2021

Data breaches declined by 24% globally in the first 6 months of 2021, although breaches in the United States increased by 1.5% in that period according to the 2021 Mid-Year Data Breach QuickView Report from Risk-Based Security.

Risk Based Security identified 1,767 publicly reported breaches between January 1, 2021 and June 30, 2021. Across those breaches, 18.8 billion records were exposed, which represents a 32% decline from the first 6 months of 2020 when 27.8 billion records were exposed. 85% of the exposed records in the first half of 2021 occurred in just one breach at the Forex trading service FBS Markets.

The report confirms the healthcare industry continues to be targeted by cyber threat actors, with the industry having reported more data breaches than any other industry sector this year. Healthcare has been the most targeted industry or has been close to the top since at least 2017 and it does not appear that trend will be reversed any time soon. 238 healthcare data breaches were reported in the first 6 months of 2021, with finance & insurance the next most attacked sector with 194 reported incidents, followed by information with 180 data breaches.

The report shows there have been significant shifts in data breach trends in 2021. While data breaches have declined globally and have remained fairly constant in the United States, there has been a marked increase in ransomware attacks. Risk Based Security recorded 352 ransomware attacks in the first 6 months of 2021 and, if that pace continues, the number of attacks will be significantly higher than 2020.

Ransomware attacks are extremely costly in healthcare due to the long period of downtime, and without access to medical records patient safety is put at risk. This is of course known to ransomware gangs. The reliance on access to data and the high cost of downtime increases the probability of the ransom being paid.

In 2020, data breaches started to take longer to be reported and that trend has continued in 2021. This is in part due to the increase in ransomware attacks, which can take longer to investigate, but even taking that into account there were many cases when breach notifications took an unusually long time to be issued and that has started to attract attention from regulators.

“Ransomware attacks continue at an alarming pace, inflicting serious damage on the victim organizations that rely on their services,” said Inga Goddijn, Executive Vice President at Risk Based Security. “The slow pace of reporting brought on by lengthy incident investigations has not improved and attackers continue to find new opportunities to take advantage of changing circumstances.”

The majority of reported breaches (67.97%) were hacking incidents, with only 100 (5.66%) due to viruses, and just 45 email incidents (2.55%). There were 76 web breaches reported (4.30%); however, they resulted in the highest number of records being breached.

Data breaches that exposed access credentials such as email addresses and passwords have remained consistent with other years, with email addresses exposed in 40% of breaches and passwords in 33%. The majority of reported breaches in 2021 were the result of external threat actors (78.66%), with 13.75% caused by insiders. Out of the confirmed insider breaches, the majority were accidental (58.85%), with 18.52% caused by malicious insiders.

Risk Based Security also notes that breach severity is increasing. Large numbers of data breaches have been reported in 2021 that involved sensitive data, which is a particularly worrying trend.

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