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Hackers, insiders blamed for US data breach growth

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US organisations lost even more sensitive data in a greater number of information security screw-ups last year, according to a new survey.

A study by the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) calculated that 35 million data records were exposed last year in 656 admitted incidents, up 47 per cent compared to the 446 data loss calamities logged in 2007. Since an estimated 40 per cent of breaches go unreported, the true number of exposed records is likely to be far higher than headline figure suggest, ITRC explains.

The vast majority of data breaches that were reported last year involved data unprotected by either encryption or even password protection. Only in 25 (2.4 per cent) of all breaches involved encrypted data, while password protection came into play in just 8.5 per cent of cases.

ITRC monitor press reports and statutory disclosures to monitor five categories of data loss: data lost in transit, accidental exposure, insider theft, subcontractors, and hacking.

Computer malware, hacking, and insider theft accounted for 29.6 per cent of recorded breaches, where the root cause of the attack is known. One in six breaches (15.7 per cent) were blamed to insider theft, a figure that's more then doubled between 2007 and 2008.

More encouragingly, data losses due to human error rather than malign action dropped in frequency while still accounting for more than a third of cases (35.2 per cent), again where the cause of a breach has been determined.

Meanwhile, electronic breaches (82.3 per cent) continue to outnumber paper breaches (17.7 per cent) by almost four to one, ITRC concludes. US government organisation were inflicted in fewer breaches last year while screw-ups in the private sector showed a corresponding rise.

A full breakdown of the incidents logged by ITRC, on which it bases its report, can be found here (PDF warning). ®

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