1.1 billion identities exposed in data breaches in 2016, says Symantec report

While US topped the list in the number of data breaches by country at 1,023, India saw eight breaches in 2016, says Symantec Internet Security Threat Report


The number of data breaches fell between 2015 and 2016—dropping from 1,211 to 1,209. Photo: iStock
The number of data breaches fell between 2015 and 2016—dropping from 1,211 to 1,209. Photo: iStock

New Delhi: In the last eight years, more than 7.1 billion identities have been exposed in data breaches globally, which is almost the equivalent of one for every person on the planet, according to the findings of Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report released on Wednesday.

In 2016 alone, almost 1.1 billion identities were stolen globally, a big jump from the 563.8 million stolen in 2015. This is despite the fact that the number of data breaches actually fell between 2015 and 2016—dropping from 1,211 to 1,209, said the report. In 2016, there were 15 mega breaches—breaches in which more than 10 million identities were stolen—an increase from 11 in 2014 and 13 in 2015.

Globally, the report placed the US at the top of the list for both the number of breaches by country (1,023) and the number of identities stolen by country. This is an unsurprising finding for several reasons. The US has a large population, high adoption of technology, and a large number of companies based there. There are also strict legal requirements in the US around reporting data breaches.

There were only four data breaches in France in 2016, but it appears in the second spot on the list for identities stolen. Similarly, in Russia, two data breaches were responsible for the bulk of exposed identities. One breach revealed 57 million email addresses, while the second saw 25 million user accounts from an online forum compromised. India has eight breaches in 2016, said the report.

The report documents that global ransomware antivirus detections by month increased over the course of 2016 averaging at approximately 35,000 per month at the beginning of the year and rising to more than 40,000 per month by the end of the year. With more than a third of all infections logged in 2016, the US continues to be the region most affected by ransomware. Japan (9%), Italy (7%), Canada (4%) and India (4%) are also heavily affected. European nations such as the Netherlands (3%), Russia (3%), Germany (3%) and the UK (3%) figure highly in infection statistics. The other country to figure in the top 10 is Australia (3%). The statistics indicate that attackers are largely concentrating their efforts on developed, stable economies.

Meanwhile, Indian ranks second highest in the Asia Pacific region and fifth globally as the region most affected by ransomware. India accounts for 3.8 % global detections, up from just 0.8% in 2015.

Email re-emerged as the weapon of choice in 2016, with 1 out of 131 emails having attached malware or links to malware, as compared to 1 in 220 emails in 2015. In India, this doubled from 1 in 305 emails in 2015 to 1 in 150 emails last year.

According to Tarun Kaura, director, product management, Asia Pacific Japan, Symantec: “There are cracks in the cloud. Cloud services and IoT are the next frontier of cybercrime as a growing reliance on cloud services has left organizations open to attacks.” Tens of thousands of cloud databases were hijacked and held for ransom in 2016 after users left outdated databases open on the internet without authentication turned on. According to Symantec data, CIOs have lost track of how many cloud apps are used inside their organizations. Most assume their organizations use up to 40 cloud apps when in reality the number is close to 1,000.

Similarly, in 2016, IoT devices were responsible for the biggest DDoS attack ever seen. Default passwords are still the biggest security weakness for IoT devices. The password most commonly tried by attackers is “admin”. With Gartner predicting that there will be more than 20 billion IoT devices in the world by 2020, Symantec predicts that there is much less security for attackers to overcome when trying to take over an IoT device. Unlike a desktop computer or laptop, which will typically have security software installed and receive automatic security updates, an IoT device’s only protection may be an easily guessed default user name and password. Currently, the poor security on IoT devices is making life easier for cyber criminals.

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