In-depth

Are we really in the middle of a data breach epidemic?

Davey Winder explains why the recent run of data breach headlines are really nothing to worry about

eBay got hacked and then got the response all wrong . Office (the shoe retailer, not the Microsoft software suite) had a server attacked, resulting in customer data being compromised. Even anti-virus vendor Avast saw its online forums hacked, and user passwords compromised as a result.

No-one's 100 per cent sure what happened over at music streaming giant Spotify, other than there was unauthorised access going on, although it looks very much like it could have been a proof-of-concept attack via the Spotify Android client.

Oh, and let's not forget the whole Heartbleed story, which continues to roll on as a new wireless attack vector is suspected.

With all this going on, you'd be forgiven for thinking there is a security breach epidemic happening right now, but is that actually the case?

One PR company got in touch with me to pitch a by-lined article on why breaches are happening more often. I'm not mentioning them, as I've been around long enough to understand that when someone says 'bylined article' they actually mean 'thinly-disguised product marketing pitch'.

Anyway, the point is this misplaced pitch included a helpful list of reasons to explain why there has been a "sudden spate of cyber security breaches" of late.

Despite experiencing similar waves of breach disclosures many times before in my twenty years of covering the security business, some of the ten reasons listed got my back up, and have decided to address them one-by-one.

1. Hackers are getting better at hacking

Actually, hackers are probably getting lazier and more complacent than they have ever been. There are more tools out there to facilitate easy hacking, and more vulnerabilities to be exploited. But the real biggie is the lack of understanding of security issues by organisations.

So, hackers may be having more success (although there's little actual evidence to support this) and companies are now disclosing breaches more readily, but that doesn't mean hackers are getting better at hacking.

2. There are more hackers, doing more hacking

See above. There are more criminals exploiting vulnerabilities, perhaps, and using readily available exploit kits, but when it comes to the old school, competent 'real' hackers, then my gut tells me the numbers are decreasing.

3. IT providers are failing to provide adequate security measures

OK, you've got me there, I cannot argue with that one. Quite obviously there is an 'adequate security' failure happening here, and service providers need to man up and strengthen their efforts. 

4. Organisations are getting worse at security

Again, no argument from me here. Organisations *think* they are getting better at security, which is a big part of the problem, but actually they are getting better at investing in the wrong solutions and worse at keeping up with the real threat vectors.

5. Organisations are getting better at breach detection

Again, I agree that breach detection methodologies are improving and attacks that might have gone unnoticed a decade ago are now more routinely spotted. Unfortunately, if you read the detail of compromises over the last few years, you will note that many of them went totally undetected for months on end, all the time collecting data and compromising users.

This suggests breach detection has a long way to go, and the chances are the breaches we read about are just the tip of the iceberg as far as actual successful attacks go.

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