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It's About Time: Where Attackers Have the Upper Hand

Businesses take a median of 38 days to detect cybercrime, but can decrease the impact of a breach with faster incident response.

The median timeframe between attacker compromise and victim detection is 38 days. This "attacker dwell time" gives cybercriminals the advantage in security breaches, but businesses can mitigate the effects of a breach by up to 70% with faster incident response.

A new report titled "Cyber Security: For Defenders, It's About Time,, conducted by Aberdeen Group and commissioned by McAfee, digs into how time affects the business impact of cybercrime. Researchers analyzed data from the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), which includes information on more than 1,300 breaches between 2014 and 2016.

Researchers found a broad range of incident response time among businesses. In half of the successful data breaches, it took five to six weeks or less for defenders to detect malicious activity. In the other half, detection took as long as four years.

"Half of [breaches] are dealt with in the first 38 days, which is actually pretty good," says Barbara Kay, senior director of product and solutions marketing at McAfee. "It could be better, but it's not too bad."

However, she continues, the four-year window in this data indicates there's a lot of activity in infrastructure that goes undetected for a long time. This is a sign of threat actors hidden deep within the business, which will take "deep hunting" to root out.

The longest timeframe will typically be with the most sophisticated type of attacker, Kay adds. Someone who is deep within the network for a long time either wants something (source code or blueprints, for example) or has a vendetta against the company.

"The sheer volume of modern-day vulnerabilities and exploits, paired with the increasingly sophisticated and targeted nature of cyberattacks, signifies the importance of time to detection for the modern enterprise," says Derek Brink, VP and research fellow at Aberdeen Group.

Organizations can mitigate the effects of security breaches by up to 70% with faster incident detection and response; however, the extent of this mitigation depends on the type of breach at hand. This research differentiates between two: business disruption and data breaches.

Attacks on business disruption target the availability of networks and network-based services. In Aberdeen's research, these do less damage upfront but continue to grow over time as hackers stay within the business and take their time to disrupt.

By doubling the speed of their incident response time, organizations can cut the impact of a disruptive cyberattack by 70%.

"The earlier you find an attack working on availability, the better off you're going to be," says Kay.

For data breaches, the business impact is greatest at the beginning of an exploit. There's a rapid falloff; the threat actors get in, cause damage quickly, and get out. Businesses can lessen the effects of a data breach by 30% by doubling the speed of their incident response time.

One of the challenges is, businesses can't keep up with vulnerability disclosures. Researchers found about 80% of the exploits for a given vulnerability are already in existence by the time it's publicized, but only 70% of vendor-provided patches, fixes, or workarounds are available.

Because patching requires time and resources, the report states, it could be weeks or months before businesses actually update their systems -- giving attackers a broad window of vulnerability.

"Cybersecurity practitioners looking to protect business value must move as quickly and nimbly as the adversaries they face, and regain the time currently working against them by implementing strategies that prioritize faster detection, investigation and response to incidents," says Brink.

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Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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