Breaches Down for Third Year

A quick look at the all time chart of breaches tells you something is up with the data…or down.

The past several conferences I have presented at I explain why the breaches are down but attacks of a certain type on a certain industry are up. But maybe I should start a series called ZOMG BREACHES DOWN 40% FROM 2008, given today’s bone-rattling story from the Washington Business Journal called “Computer security incidents reported by federal agencies increase 650%”

Federal agencies reported more than 40,000 security incidents that placed sensitive information at risk during 2010 — a 650 percent increase compared to five years ago, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

First of all, I think it’s fantastic that more incident reporting is happening and the GAO is on top of reporting progress to the public. But that doesn’t mean a reporter should just throw that number out unwashed and imply the incidents “placed sensitive information at risk”.

Such an implication will confuse readers including me because…second of all, their very next paragraph says incidents are a very, very broad area of concern way beyond just risk of disclosure.

…”security incidents” don’t always equate to an all-out breach. (According to US-CERT, they include successful and failed attempts to gain unauthorized access to a system or its data, unwanted disruption, unauthorized use of a system for the processing or storage of data, and changes to system hardware, firmware, or software characteristics without the owner’s knowledge.)

The big story is that the GAO is seeing the kind of curve in data that the datalossdb project saw right after 2004, the year following the California Breach Notification Law SB 1386. I could talk all day on what we have learned since then about breaches and reporting incidents since 2003. But let’s just say I am disgruntled to see in 2011 a reporter would toss out a headline grenade of 650% increase in incidents while ignoring that overall breaches (not incidents reported, breaches) are in decline.

Here’s a classic quote

The four most prevalent types of security incidents reported to US-CERT during fiscal 2010 include the detection of malicious code, improper usage and unauthorized access, and detected anomolies that warrant further review.

I see that as three types of security incidents and an additional category of stuff not yet figured out. Imagine if the headline was instead reporting a 650% increase in stuff not yet figured out.

Update: I should have also mentioned my earlier post that California has taken a big step forward again with SB 24 and the push for a centralized breach data repository. This issue just came up again at the federal level and the emphasis is clearly on better oversight.

If you can read past the unsubstantiated barking by fearful politicians about “precedent in history for such a massive and sustained intelligence effort” (you obviously don’t have to know history to get elected) there are some actual good nuggets like this advice from RSA

Asked for suggestions on improving U.S. cybersecurity, [Art Coviello, executive chairman of RSA Security] called on Congress to pass a national data breach notification law, and he called on the U.S. government to share more information about cyberattacks with private companies. A quicker method of sharing information between the government and businesses is needed, he said, because in a large majority of successful cyberattacks, businesses don’t know they were breached until the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation or some other third party tells them.

A national breach notification law would help reduce much of the confusion about attack source and consequences; perhaps it would even allow us to better settle the debate over what constitutes a “sophisticated” attack. Speaking of RSA, see you all next week at the conference where I’ll discuss many of the above issues.

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