Why enterprises need a data breach response plan

The recent Verizon Data Breach report has got Davey Winder thinking hard about enterprise security

Data breach

A common mistake made by all enterprises is that defence in depth is everything, which probably sounds odd from someone who has repeatedly implored businesses at both ends of the SMB spectrum to adopt a layered approach to IT security.

I'm not saying dynamic, multi-layered security defences are pointless. Far from it in fact. What I am trying to say is that data protection dynamism has to go further than just being about defence. It also has to be about response.

What brought this to mind was a combination of Symantec declaring anti-virus is dead, while catching up with the pile of security reports I've received in recent weeks.

The Symantec/Norton statement can be taken with a pinch of marketing salt, as the signature-based anti-virus product it refers to has been a rotting corpse for years now. As for the reportage mound, that's down to the annual Infosecurity Europe show which tends to generate a glut of such things the week before and after.

One document in this pile worthy of receiving the "sit down with a cup of good coffee and switch the iPhone off" treatment was the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report.

The latest did not disappoint, and its 60 pages is best summed up by the big '92 per cent'  figure featured on the cover.

This refers to the fact that 92 per cent of the 100,000 security incidents analysed by Verizon across the previous decade can be described by just nine basic patterns.

These include: card skimming, crimeware, cyber-espionage, DDoS attacks, insider misuse, miscellaneous errors, physical theft or loss, POS intrusion and web app attack.

Drill into the report and the detailed devil emerges, and its name is stolen passwords. According to the Verizon data, two out of three breaches last year used stolen (or abused) login credentials as either a route to the attack or at some point along the attack timeline.

This isn't exactly surprising, as the payload for most breaches these days is to target and scrape up valid user credentials.

Getting access to the kind of data that has value on the dark market means using authenticated credentials at some point in the process if you want an easier life as a jobbing black hat hacker, so stealing authenticated credentials has become the focus for that same group of folk.

The Verizon report has the use of stolen credentials at the top of the 'used in a breach' list, beating off competition from data stealing malware, phishing, RAM scraping, backdoors, spyware and others. This is an interesting list, as most of them are also concerned in one way or another with grabbing user credentials.

This throws up two takeaways for me. The first is that login credentials are key when it comes to planning any data defence strategy, and that means moving away from simple password-based challenge systems and firmly in the direction of multi-factor authentication, tokenisation or adaptive authentication systems.

That's pretty much a given. What's less obvious is how to respond to the inevitability of a breach at some point in time. This is an absurd state to be in, as throwing a knee-jerk response to a breach out as both a statement to media and customers, as well as a strategy to deal with the compromise itself, is never going to be a satisfactory turn of events.

The bad guys already have most things playing to their advantage, such as only having to discover the one weak link in your defensive chain, and plenty of time and resources to throw at that search.

Rather than spend ever increasing amounts of time and money in the never achievable goal of 100 per cent perfection. The odds are in their favour, which is why you need to start thinking in terms of pulling your metaphorical knickers up and straightening those knees in order to launch a well thought out breach response plan when the time comes.

A proper response plan enables the enterprise to mitigate the breach, to minimise the damage done and reduce the potential reward to the bad guys. It may not be a win-win, but it's as close as you are realistically going to get.

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