Unstructured Data is the New Target as Cyberattacks Reach New High

The number of records compromised grew a historic 566% in 2016, from 600 million to a record four billion, according to the 2017 IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index.

These leaked records include data cybercriminals have traditionally targeted, like credit cards and passwords, but IBM X-Force also noted a shift in cybercriminal strategies: a number of significant breaches related to unstructured data such as email archives, intellectual property, and source code were also compromised.

“Cybercriminals continued to innovate in 2016 as we saw techniques like ransomware move from a nuisance to an epidemic,” said Caleb Barlow, Vice President of Threat Intelligence, IBM Security. “While the volume of records compromised last year reached historic highs, we see this shift to unstructured data as a seminal moment.

In a separate study last year, IBM Security found 70 percent of businesses impacted by ransomware paid over $10,000 to regain access to business data and systems. In the first three months of 2016, the FBI estimated cybercriminals were paid a reported $209 million via ransomware. This would put criminals on pace to make nearly $1 billion from their use of the malware just last year.

“Unstructured data is big-game hunting for hackers and we expect to see them monetize it this year in new ways,” Barlow added.

The promise of profits and businesses increasing willingness to pay empowered cybercriminals to double down on ransomware in 2016. The primary delivery method for ransomware is via malicious attachments in spam emails. This fueled a 400 percent increase in spam year over year with roughly 44 percent of spam containing malicious attachments. Ransomware made up 85% of those malicious attachments in 2016.

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