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Contributing writer

Verizon releases first-ever data breach digest with security case studies

Mar 01, 20163 mins
Data BreachInternet SecurityInvestigation and Forensics

Verizon is known for its huge annual Data Breach Investigations Report, but this morning it released a less data-heavy digest organized by case study

Verizon is known for its huge annual Data Breach Investigations Report, but this morning it released a less data-heavy digest organized by case study.

The digest tells the stories of 18 common scenarios that many attacks fall into, and is intended to be used at a higher level than than the full data breach report, as well as for end user training and security awareness.

“Everyone is told by their company, ‘Do this, don’t do that’ and they may not understand why,” said Chris Novak, director of investigative response team at Verizon. “This digest explains the why.”

According to Novak, the digest is based on 1,175 forensic investigations that Verizon has conducted over the past three years.

Two-thirds of the cases fall into just a dozen scenarios, he said. Another six scenarios are less common overall, but have a bigger impact on targeted companies.

“One of the key take-aways that we’re hoping folks will realize here is that there’s such commonality between the cases,” Novak said. “There’s a perception that everyone is in this alone. By putting these stories out there, it shows the industry that they are not alone.”

The scenarios are grouped by type of attack and while they include a frequency number, this is not how common these attacks are in general, but by how often the attack strategy occurs in the Verizon forensic investigations.

The individual case studies go through the methods that investigators used to figure out what happened, as well as the steps taken afterwards to address the problem.

For example, the first case study, in which plans for new construction equipment were stolen by a competitor via a spearphishing attack, involved traditional detective work. Investigators interviewed experts at the company to find out what data the thieves must have taken, then interviewed employees to zero in on the ones who had access.

At that point, computer forensics helped find the phishing emails from the fake recruiter who had been sending the targeted employees emails with appealing job offers — one of which that contained the malware that got into his computer and stole the files.

There are some lighter moments in this report, as well, such as the story of the cyberextortionist who was caught when the targeted financial services company pretended to offer him a job. Investigators flew the criminal from Eastern Europe to the U.S., conducted a mock job interview, and at the end asked for a demonstration of his abilities in the form of details of how he had compromised the company. The crook explained in great detail how he was able to infiltrate the various corporate systems, but instead of getting a job offer, he was thanked for his confession and arrested.

And there’s the story of the best developer at a company — who turned out to have outsourced his job to China in order to spend the day reading Reddit and watching cat videos. He had FedExed his authentication token key fob to the contractor, and was caught when logs showed mysterious — but authorized — VPN access from China.

The full digest is 84 pages long, but it’s a fun, fast-paced and gripping read that even involves pirates on the high seas.