Will the Real “Year of the Data Breach” Please Stand Up?

My New Year’s Day ritual has been the same for nearly 10 years now: a late breakfast, a cup of strong coffee and a scan of security blogs and news for two things that always make me chuckle: cyber predictions for the new year, and a retrospective that declares the past year the “Year of the Data Breach.” Kelly Shortridge perfectly parodied the former and I actually thought we might go a year without the latter, until I found this headline on Bloomberg news in which 2017 is named the Year of the Data Breach:

Source: Bloomberg; https://www.bna.com/2017-year-data-b73014473359/

If you are wondering to yourself, where have I seen this before…? It’s nearly every year. 10 of the last 12 years, to be exact.

Here’s a retrospective on the last 12 years and a glimpse into 2018’s prospects.

2005

2005 was the first year ever to be declared “The Year of the Data Breach” by many media outlets, such as InfoWorld. The phrase “data breach” entered into everyday usage in 2005 as well, due to data breach notification laws being enacted, increased data breach litigation as well as Ameritrade, CitiGroup and CardSystems all disclosing incidents.

2006

2006 was a big year for data breaches — it featured the AOL search data leak scandal and the US Department of Veterans Affairs breach. It caused one blogger and one security vendor to dub 2006 the year of the data breach.

2007

Attrition.org, the Identify Theft Resource Center and the Canadian Federal Privacy Commissioner in a letter to Parliament all declared 2007 “the year of the data breach.” I remember 2007 for two things: Britney Spears’ sad meltdown and the TJ Maxx data breach.

2008

Nothing! 2008 is not the year of the data breach! Good job, 2008.

2009

If 2005, 2006 and 2007 were all the year of the data breach, 2009 is the year of the MEGA DATA BREACH, according to Forbes and a security vendor. It was a big one, primarily due to the Heartland Payment Systems data breach which was a compromise of 130 million records.

2010

After the MEGA year of 2009, we all decided to take a break.

2011

After 2008 and 2010 were not the year of the data breach, it was as if security journalists, vendors and cyber experts all stood up and shouted, in unison, “NEVER AGAIN! There shall never be a year that is not the Year of the Data Breach!”

And a good year it was. Trend Micro called it and Brian Krebs, among many others referenced it. The most notable incident was the Sony Playstation Network suffering a prolonged service outage and data breach.

2012

A small security vendor, in a year end retrospective, named 2012 the “Year of the Data Breach,” with breaches at Yahoo, Zappos and several high-profile incidents in the government sector dominating the news. It was also the “Year of the Data Breach in New Zealand,” according to the country’s privacy commissioner.

2013

2009 wants its adjective back. Symantec, in the 2013 Internet Security Threat Report, dubbed 2013 the “Year of the Mega Data Breach,” citing attacks on small and medium-sized businesses and the government sector. Others called it the “Year of the Retailer Breach” due to incidents at Target and Adobe.

2014

Assuming we could only have one “Year of the Data Breach,” 2014 would have to be the strongest contender. There were a massive amount of incidents in 2014: UPS, Michael’s, Home Depot, Jimmy John’s, Staples and JP Morgan Chase. The aforementioned are all eclipsed by, The Hack of the Century (according to Fortune): the Sony Pictures Entertainment hack.

Most media outlets dubbed 2014 the “Year of the Data Breach,” as well as Advisen, Trend Micro and Tripwire’s State of Security.

2015

I declare 2015 the “Year of Superlatives.” Here is how the year was reported:

Many Americans were affected by data breaches in 2015, with the most notable incidents occurring at Ashley Madison, OPM, Anthem and the IRS.

2016

After 2014 and 2015, one would think it would be time to retire the phrase “Year of the…” and think of something else. Nope.

A small law firm specializing in data privacy, SecureWorld, and a radio host named 2016 the “Year of the Data Breach.”

In a completely perplexing statement, Ars Technica recognized 2014 and 2015 as the “Year of the Data Breach” and also issued a challenge:

[I]f pundits don’t label [2016] ‘the year of the data breach’ — like a one-phase Chinese zodiac for the 21st century — they’re not doing their jobs at all.

2017

Bloomberg declared 2017 the “Year of the Data Breach,” citing incidents at Equifax, Yahoo and Uber. Experian also jumped on the bandwagon.

2018: a cyber prediction

Combining my two favorite things: cyber predictions and “year of the data breach” declarations, the non-profit Information Security Forum (ISF) stated that 2018 will be the “year of the data breach.”

Conclusion

Much has been written about consumer data breach fatigue. I have no doubt that breach fatigue is real and headlines like this, year over year, contribute to it. When headlines about cybersecurity cross the line into hyperbole, it’s time to re-think how we present the industry’s most pressing problems to the rest of the world. As it stands now, declaring a year the “year of the data breach” has become virtually meaningless. We know that data breaches are going to occur every year. Perhaps, starting this year, we can pull out the one notable data breach as the “Data Breach of the Year,” instead of naming the whole year the “Year of the Data Breach.”

More by Tony Martin-Vegue

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