Analysis of the 2020 Verizon Data Breach Report

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TOPIC: In this episode, Daniel takes a look at the 2020 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report. He looks at the key findings and talks about what they might mean to us going forward.

The newsletter serves as the show notes for the podcast.

verizon dataviz

The Dataviz Game on Point

Verizon’s Breach Report is one of the best infosec reports out there, and I’m always excited when I hear it’s been released. This year—with the lockdown—that’s even more the case. So I decided to do a dedicated edition of show for it.

I have to say, the report started strong with the very first thing I see being a super clean data visualization like we see above.

You can download the full report here.

So let’s get into it.

Key definitions

There’s lots of religion around definitions (trust me, I have my own church), so it’s important to lock that down in the beginning. These are the three that I see the most disagreement on when people talk about this report.

A security event that compromises the integrity, confidentiality or availability of an information asset.
An incident that results in the confirmed disclosure—not just potential exposure—of data to an unauthorized party.
1) Utilizing stolen or brute- forced credentials; 2) exploiting vulnerabilities; and 3) using backdoors and Command and Control (C2) functionality.

Key numbers

summary findings 2020

Top tactics utilized

  • This year, they looked at 3,950 breaches and 157,525 incidents—32,002 of which qualified to be analyzed by them
  • 45% of breaches involved Hacking
  • Errors were causal events in 22% of breaches
  • 72% involved large business victims
  • 58% had personal data compromised
  • 70% were perpetrated by external actors (30% involved insiders)
  • Organized crime was behind 55% of breaches
  • 86% were financially motivated
  • Web Apps were involved in 43%
  • 37% stole or used credentials
  • 22% involved phishing
  • Phishing is usually going after credentials, but stealing money is continues to rise in popularity

Verizon’s analysis

incidents breaches

Top actions for incidents vs. breaches

  • They say external actors have always been the majority, and that the rise of internal breaches is from better reporting, not increased frequency
  • The top actor was by far Organized Crime, at 55%
  • Nation-state, end-user, and system admins each took around 10% of the actor pool
  • The Error incident type continues to increase, with most other types falling
  • Hacking, social, and malware have fallen the most
  • The top 2 incident threat actions were DoS, and Phishing
  • The top 2 breach threat actions were Phishing and Use of Stolen Creds
  • Errors are now as common as social attacks, and more common than malware attacks
  • The top malware type is Password Dumper, because it really is about getting those creds
hacking 2020

Hacking types and vectors

  • The top three ways of getting the malware are email link, direct install, and download by other malware
  • Within hacking, web applications accounted for over 95% of breaches
  • Over 80% involved using brute force or stolen creds
  • There was relatively little vuln exploitation or use of backdoors/C2
  • Social actions arrived via email over 96% of the time
  • Breaches that take days or less are rising, while those taking months or more are declining
  • They’re showing cyber-espionage as being down, which is surprising to me
  • DDoS is way up, both in numbers of attacks and the weight of them

My analysis


Misconfiguration is becoming a huge issue

I find it really interesting that in the top threat actions for breaches—so, successful incidents—the top 5 included: phishing, stolen creds, misdelivery (error), and misconfiguration (error).

steps 2020

Different techniques used in different phases of the attack

On page 101 they mention that they’re standardizing their recommended controls on the CIS 20, which I think is smart.

So it seems like the major themes are:

  • Phishing (which is usually used to steal credentials)
  • Email security (because phishing)
  • Web applications (which are used to extract and input stolen credentials)
  • Stolen Creds (which are usually used against web apps)

In short, credentials.

And the second big theme seems to be misconfiguration, which I’ve always been on about, and is also why I’m so obsessed with recon.

All summed, this is another phenomenal report by the team at Verizon. I think I liked the structure and visuals of this report more than any other so far, so happy to see them constantly innovating on how they present their data.

Tons of data is useless if you can’t find compelling ways to display it, and I commend them for their work in that regard.

Remember, what you see above is just some highlights that jumped at me, but different readers will notice different things. So I definitely recommend you read the report yourself.

See you next year for the 2021 version.


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