The Morning After: What Happens to Data Post-Breach?

By on May 02, 2016

This post first appeared on the security website Dark Reading.

We need consumers and businesses to not simply shrug off data breaches but to take active measures to protect their data. We are hopeful that new insights will provide a compelling answer to the question “So what?”

No company is bulletproof when it comes to the compromise of data; this is the resounding message from Verizon’s 2016 Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR). With statistics detailing how many records have been compromised, the fundamental question that is often overlooked is “So what?”

I don’t mean to sound indifferent, but it is a response that we often hear. “Banks refund me anyway” and “Well, it’s just another notification letter. I get these all the time” are common refrains. Feeling numb to the dizzying statistics is a dangerous trend that without correct education could have significant repercussions to the data subjects that have been impacted.

To assist with that education, we have coauthored one section of the DBIR that explains what happens with data after a breach, in particular the monetization of stolen data and their associated markets. (McAfee contributed to this report by providing anonymized breach data. We also coauthored Appendix A, which focuses on post-breach fraud and what happens to data once it has been stolen from the breached entity. The report and more about our contribution can be found here.)

One of the biggest challenges we face when attempting to explain market pricing for stolen data is that not all data is created equally. How can we normalize various stolen data sets to establish “market prices?” In short, we cannot. It is for this reason that we focused instead on specific data sets—payment card information, financial account information, and medical data.

What is particularly significant is how inexpensive it is to purchase this type of data, with payment cards selling for the price of a cup of coffee. However, we were surprised by the sharp drop in the price of stolen payment cards over the last several years. Apparently, the law of supply and demand applies to all markets, including the criminal marketplace. With so many recent confirmed payment card breaches, there is only one direction for the market price of these cards to move—downward!

We are hopeful that such insights provide a compelling answer to the question “So what?” As a society, we are increasingly dependent on digital systems. We need consumers and businesses to not simply shrug off data breaches but to take active measures to protect their data and not give criminals a shortcut to becoming millionaires. As the European Cybercrime Centre states in the report, “Only through a coordinated effort involving all parties will we be in a position to tackle this threat.”

About the Author

Raj Samani

Raj Samani is Chief Scientist and McAfee Fellow for cybersecurity firm McAfee. He has assisted multiple law enforcement agencies in cybercrime cases, and is a special advisor to the European Cybercrime Centre in The Hague. Samani has been recognized for his contribution to the computer security industry through numerous awards, including the Infosecurity Europe hall ...

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