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Verizon DBIR 2017 loses international contributors

Looking at the overall numbers for the contributors to the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) from the past five years, it would seem like the amount of partners is hitting a plateau, but looking at the specifics raises questions about international data sharing.

The number of partners contributing data to the Verizon DBIR exploded from 2013 (19) through 2014 (50) and peaking in 2015 (70), while there has been a slight dip in 2016 (67) and 2017 (65). The total numbers gloss over the churn of contributors added and lost year-to-year.

For example, the slight dip in Verizon DBIR 2017 partners was due to the loss of 19 contributors and the addition of 17 new ones, but these are the biggest names lost:

  • Australian Federal Police
  • CERT-EU
  • CERT Polska/NASK
  • European Crime Center
  • Imperva
  • International Computer Security Association Labs
  • Policia Metropolitana Ciudad de Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Tenable Network Security
  • Splunk
  • UK-CERT
  • Verizon Cyber Intelligence Center

And compare the biggest names added:

  • Rapid7
  • Veracode
  • VERIS Community Database
  • Verizon Digital Media Services
  • Verizon Fraud Team
  • Verizon Network Operations and Engineering
  • Verizon Enterprise Services

A Verizon spokesperson said the difference between 2016 and 2017 was due to “a combination of factors, including sample sizes may have been too small, an organization wasn’t able to commit to this year’s report due to other priorities or the deadline was missed for content submission.”

However, just looking at the Verizon DBIR partners involved, there was a notable drop in international contributors while Verizon listed more of its own projects as well as the VERIS Community Database, which has been integral to the DBIR since the database was launched in 2013.

It is unclear why these organziations have dropped out, and none responded to questions on the topic. Maybe they left due to changes in international data sharing laws, including the upcoming GDPR. It is also possible there were other mitigating factors such as the climate surrounding data privacy or political uncertainty in the U.S. and abroad. Or, Verizon could be correct and this is nothing more than an odd coincidence.

Effects on analyzing DBIR data

Over the years Verizon has warned that the results of the DBIR can be affected by the partners involved and one expert noted the Verizon DBIR 2017 had dearth of information related to industrial control systems. But, it appears there may also be a loss of international data to take into account when analyzing the results of the report.

Each year, Verizon does add new data to the DBIR statistics for previous years based on newly contributed information. This means the data regarding 2014 or 2015 incidents and data breaches would be more accurate in the 2017 Verizon DBIR than in the reports for those respective years. So, the data of past reports may be less reliable than the latest info in the newer reports.

That’s not a great thing for trying to tease out trends or pinpoint the biggest new threats, but Verizon has also admitted to shying away from offering suggestions on actions enterprises should take based on the DBIR data.

Maybe IT pros should take more care to consider the quality and volume of the sources when analyzing the Verizon DBIR. There is good data, like confirmation of trends we already saw or felt, like the rise of ransomware and cyberespionage or failures of basic security, and new trends, like pretexting. But, without more transparency regarding what organizations are contributing and why partners leave, other analysis could be challenging.

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