The 2020 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report: One CISO’s View

The 2020 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report: One CISO’s View
Rick Holland
Read More From Rick Holland
May 19, 2020 | 6 Min Read

Sadly, Marvel’s Black Widow release date was pushed back as a result of COVID19, but thankfully the 2020 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) release is now upon us.

Get out your popcorn.

For the second year in a row, Digital Shadows has contributed to the DBIR, which I still get very excited about as a long time DBIR fanboy. As I have done in the past, I thought I would provide some initial analysis of the much anticipated annual report. I will follow it up with more in the future. Today, I’m going to take a bit of a different approach. The data from the report is all pre-pandemic, so I’m going to provide some analysis on how I think the pandemic and our new remote workforce paradigm might impact the findings.

The Verizon DBIR Details – A Quick Look

Before I dig into the report analysis, let’s lay out the report details:

  • Verizon analyzed a record total of 157,525 incidents. Of those, 32,002 met their quality standards, and 3,950 were confirmed data breaches.
  • The incidents included in the report went from November 1, 2018, through October 31, 2019. Verizon wrote that “the 2019 caseload is the primary analytical focus of the report.”
  • Verizon included sixteen industry breakouts. Ever since Verizon introduced these sector reports, they have been one of the most popular and practical parts of the report.
  • Verizon reintroduced a new section on Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (SMBs).
  • Verizon also unveiled a new section focused on the macro-regions of the world. Now you can get tailored analysis on Asia and Pacific (APAC), Europe Middle East and Africa (EMEA), Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) and North America (NA) regions.
  • Eighty-one contributors are representing 81 countries.
  • Verizon mapped their control recommendations to the Center for Internet Security (CIS) Critical Security Controls (CSCs), which is ideal because you can map the top mitigating controls across industries. Verizon will be adding their mapping of Critical Security Controls to their VERIS GitHub page.
  • Digital Shadows provided cyber criminal underground forum data based on search terms provided to us by Verizon.

There is no way that a single blog can provide a comprehensive analysis of the DBIR.

I made so many notes and highlights as I read and re-read the report; I wasn’t sure where to start. Call it a classic case of writer’s block, but I was stalled out. I started reflecting, and one thing that captured my attention is that this year’s DBIR incident data is all before the pandemic. In just a few short months, the world has changed in ways that we couldn’t imagine. A suddenly remote workforce, and rushed Zero Trust deployments have been thrust upon us. I want to write a quick blog focused on three areas of the report that will be exacerbated in this new pandemic paradigm:

  1. Use of stolen credentials
  2. Misdelivery/Misconfiguration Error
  3. Asset Management

Use of stolen credentials

Like Stan Lee in the Marvel movies, stolen credentials make appearances through the entire DBIR report. Over 80% of breaches within Hacking involve Brute force or the Use of lost or stolen credentials. Verizon also writes “… it is apparent that use of credentials has been on a meteoric rise”

verizon dbir stolen credentials

Given that we are adopting more and more SaaS applications in the new pandemic world to enable collaboration and productivity, our credential attack surface is growing. Sprinkle in some Shadow IT from remote workers deploying new applications, and we have the recipe for a terrible third party risk sandwich (made with yeast-free bread since you can’t find it anywhere these days.) Now would be a great time to inventory all of your external facing services and SaaS applications. Make sure that they have multi-factor authentication enabled and tied into your directory services.

Misdelivery/Misconfiguration Error

I’m combining these two top five “threat action varieties” into one section here. Verizon writes, “error is ubiquitous in all of the verticals this year,” and this “Errors definitely win the award for best supporting action this year.” Think about this, errors were ubiquitous when the workforce was working in their regular offices, not in this new pandemic environment. If you thought people made mistakes in the best of times, the new office environment says, “hold my beer.”

verizon dbir top threat action varieties

Make sure you know what internet storage (e.g. S3 buckets) you are using and that you have it securely configured. Make sure that any new SaaS collaboration applications are sufficiently hardened. Look for transparent controls that help employees and administrators make the right choices. Don’t let a misconfiguration enable a costly mistake that results in a breach of your sensitive data.

Asset Management

Verizon writes, “While successful exploitation of vulnerabilities does still occur, if your organization has a reasonable patch process in place, and you do not have a state-aligned adversary targeting you, then your time might be better spent attending to other threat varieties.”

I’m not sure how I feel about this, but ask yourself, how many organizations have a “reasonable patch process?” In my experience, many organizations have less than reasonable patch processes, significantly increasing their attack surface.

Verizon does expand on this a bit further down in the report saying that patching might be working, but asset management may not be. If asset management wasn’t working in the best of times, this capability will struggle even more in pandemic times. Take a look at this graphic, “desktop or laptop (user dev)” is second place for top asset varieties in breaches.

How many of you develop software and now have remote engineering teams?

Managing the assets of all your remote employees is critical, especially for developers that might have access to sensitive data.

verizon dbir asset management

Hopefully, you have cloud-based management of your various devices (Windows, macOS, mobile devices). This will make asset management much more effective and enable you to quickly patch vulnerabilities as software updates become available.

The Verizon DBIR is a great resource that you should incorporate into your security strategy. There are so many practical nuggets of information that can help you defend your organization. Each time you read it, you will pick up something new. Just remember that unless you were already on a Zero Trust journey, your security strategy has likely changed as a result of the pandemic. Take this into consideration as you analyze the DBIR. Remember that the DBIR should serve as just one of many data points, and it should complement your organization’s internal incident and breach reporting. You can create your version of the DBIR and incorporate VERIS using this tool from Verizon.

If you want some pragmatic suggestions on securely enabling the new remote workforce, check out these two resources:

  1. A recording of our “Threat Model of a Remote Worker” webinar.
  2. The archive of my SANS Security Leadership Managing in Turbulent Times talk “Black Swan Pandemic; Now What?
Threat Model of a Remote Worker [Recorded Webinar]

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