In data-heavy economy, breaches unlikely to end

Every system is hackable, and a thief can often scoop up information undetected for months or even years.


Target, Neiman Marcus and now three other national retailers (yet to be named) have reportedly lost customers’ personal data. The Target breach alone compromised the data of as many as 110 million Americans — roughly one of every three people in the country.

The recent cascade of scams is an unwanted manifestation of the technology we carry in our pockets, the business we conduct online and the ever-growing array of devices, merchants, service providers and agencies we entrust with pieces of our identity.

Think of how often you swipe your card at a counter, fill out an online form, or even enter your user name and password into a website: You share information that thieves are itching to get their hands on each time.

In 2012, the latest year for which widely accepted statistics are available, 621 confirmed data breaches compromised 44 million individual records. That’s according to Verizon’s annual Data Breach Investigation Report, considered by many to be the definitive measure of data intrusions in the industry.

Even that is not a comprehensive figure: It’s limited by the number of organizations that participate, a roster that includes outfits as diverse as Deloitte and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Because the number of participants changes constantly, it’s also impossible to compare year-over-year stats. Thus there’s no way to confirm the widespread perception that the number of breaches is growing.

But other firms that tally breaches put the number even higher.

Among veterans of the information security wars, it’s widely assumed that “100 percent” of Fortune 500 companies have been hacked at some point, said Robert Lee, a security business partner at Intuit.

Even scarier: “It’s very difficult to get a hacker out of your environment once they have a foothold,” Lee said.

The beauty of being a hacker is that you only have to exploit one weakness. The problem of being in IT is that you have to protect against all potential attacks. And the points of attack just keep growing as more of our lives occur in cyberspace.

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