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The Anatomy of an Email Data Breach

April 27, 2017

Verizon’s recent announcement of a data breach in their Enterprise Solutions unit is just the most recent of a staggeringly high number of organizational data breaches in the U.S.

What’s particularly alarming about this breach is that the Verizon unit breached is “a B2B unit of the telecommunications giant that gets called in to help Fortune 500s respond to some of the world’s largest data breaches.”

The breach was discovered when a post was made in a Dark Web cyber crime forum advertising the sale of the stolen Verizon data for $100,000. It’s not clear exactly how the data was stolen, but Verizon announced that it discovered a vulnerability in a client portal that they have since addressed.

One lesson to be drawn from this is that no one is immune from cyber crime and those that are unprepared are at serious risk.

59% of data breaches originate from inside the breached organization.

Whether it’s the consequence of a malicious actor or poor security procedures, your employees pose as your biggest risk for data breaches.

How Does an Email Data Breach Occur?

The most common form of email cyber crime is phishing. In a phishing scam, a cyber criminal sends an email that appears to be from a legitimate source.

A typical phishing scam tells the target that their security has been compromised and redirects them to an external website that appears to be authentic. For example, a phishing scam tells the target that their online bank account has been compromised and that they need to change their password.

When the target goes to the fraudulent website, they are asked for their current password in order to set a new one. When the target inputs their current password, the cyber criminal obtains the victim’s security credentials and can typically socially engineer their way to whatever sensitive information they are seeking.

The psychology behind this particular type of phishing attack is to instill fear into the victim to cause them to take immediate action without fully considering the consequences.

Cyber criminals often target high-level executives because they know that they have access to the most important data.

The Dark Web – A Cyber Crime Marketplace

The Verizon data breach also illustrates how stolen data is trafficked on the Dark Web. Cyber criminals operate black market communities on private networks that are shared with other cyber criminals. They change URLs frequently and don’t stay in one place too long.

That’s why monitoring the Dark Web is so important. If you are breached, you can take steps to limit the damage before it’s too late. And the damage is not inconsequential:

In 2014, the average cost of an organizational data breach was $5.9 million

How Can You Prevent Email Data Breaches?

The short answer is that you can’t – cyber criminals send out thousands of phishing emails knowing that all it takes is one person to give them the access they need to steal data. However, there are some steps you can take to minimize your risk.

  1. Make it a requirement for all of your employees to undergo security training so that they understand the vulnerability and recognize phishing attacks when they see them.
  1. Provide your employees with identity protection as part of your employee benefit plans – it’s relatively inexpensive and is increasingly appreciated by employees. A December 2015 IRS ruling has made it an even more attractive benefit – employers are not required to include the value of pre-breach identity protection services in employee gross income – making this an easily deployed tax-free benefit that is advantageous for both your employees and your overall organizational cybersecurity.
  1. Employ a threat intelligence professional or firm to set up procedures to safeguard your organizational data and monitor the Dark Web on your behalf.