2013 a year of breaches and targeted attacks: Symantec

2013 a year of breaches and targeted attacks: Symantec

Security vendor also finds PA and PR people are the target of cyber attacks

Data breaches and targeted attacks were the significant threats of 2013, a Symantec study has found.

The security vendor’s latest Internet Security Threat Report found data breaches grew by 62 per cent last year and compromised approximately 552 million identities.

Symantec Asia Pacific and Japan managed security director, Peter Sparkes, said the number of breaches in 2013 was surprising.

“The security industry was focused on the malicious insider and cyber warfare, and didn’t focus on the large breaches that were happening,” he said.

Tens of millions of data records were lost by the top eight data breaches, and Sparkes points out there was only a single breach that size in 2012.

Targeted attacks also experienced a spike, with the report uncovering a 91 per cent increase last year.

Sparkes said the industry knew targeted attacks were increasing, but the growth last year was beyond expectation.

“In the cyber criminal world, success breeds success,” he said.

“With successful attacks, we’re seeing a significant increase.”

Read more: Symantec announces roadmap to advanced threat protection

Ransomware is another example where success breeds success.

“A 500 per cent increase is a large figure, so we’re seeing cyber criminals recognise what is successful and replicate it quickly,” Sparkes said.

Middleman target

The report also found personal assistants and people in public relations are squarely in the sights by cyber criminals.

Read more: Kaspersky outflanks security rivals in AV-TEST'S Windows Endurance Test

Sparkes said this trend is reflective in the way cyber criminals work, as PA and PR people are used to get to higher profile targets, such as celebrities and business executives.

“Usually PA and PR are very open to the community, so their emails are readily addressable,” he said.

“A lot of times executive information is kept a bit hidden.”

PA and PR people also act as the filters for an organisation, and cyber criminals are aware of it.

“They are designed to get information, check it out, and filter that information to the executive teams,” Sparkes said.

PA and PR people are entrusted with reading emails and looking at files to see what it is before passing it on.

“That’s why those people are being targeted, as they are the entry point into an organisation,” Sparkes said.

Patrick Budmar covers consumer and enterprise technology breaking news for IDG Communications. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @patrick_budmar.

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