Content-related threats cause significant data loss

Content-layer threats – those where an attacker leverages malicious software in what the user believes is harmless content – are posing increasing risks for enterprise data loss according to new research from IANS.

The survey of 105 information security practitioners – 67% from organizations with more than 5,000 employees – reported 38% suffering at least one breach in the last 24 months that resulted in critical information being stolen. Approximately 80% of the breaches that led to loss of data assets were executed via content-layer attacks. These include attacks via social networks, browser and file format vulnerabilities as well as phishing.

“It is clear the people behind these attacks have learned that organizations are particularly vulnerable to content-based threats and exploiting seemingly innocuous content provides the greatest opportunity to gain access to and steal critical data,” said Kevin Nassery, IANS Faculty member. “Because of the covert nature of these threats hidden within everyday content such as emails or PDFs, it’s easy for tools that are only looking for malicious threats at the doorway of the network to miss them.”

For the survey respondents that did not catch the content-based threats as they infiltrated the network, the loss of data ranged from intellectual property to employee information and classified information. In fact, customer data was stolen in 54% of the content-layer breaches, compared to 13% of Internet-exposed service breaches.

Despite the significant loss of data reported, most of the survey respondents – 82% – felt they were appropriately protecting data from content-layer threats such as malware embedded in email and documents.

“Our conclusion, which is cause for concern, is that companies are mistakenly presuming their traditional security tools are sufficient, when in fact, a new kind of advanced threat defense is required to discover and impede content-related attacks.” added Kurt Bertone, Chief Security Strategist at Fidelis Security Systems.

One of the main challenges for enterprises dealing with this volume of threats is that it’s difficult to know which ones are truly malicious and putting critical assets at risk and which ones are more of a nuisance. This is driving the need for an advanced threat defense posture that goes beyond detection to include real- or near-real time analysis in order to help security teams address the threats that can do the greatest potential harm first.

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