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Most cyber espionage state-affiliated, targets United States

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Cyber espionage in 2013 tended to be committed by state-affiliated actors, target the United States, and originate in East Asia or Eastern Europe, says an annual report by security researchers at Verizon.

The report, released Wednesday, reviewed a dataset of more than 60,000 cybersecurity incidents that resulted in 1,367 confirmed data breaches last year. Among those, the report says 511 incidents resulted from cyber espionage, including 306 cases where data was known to be disclosed.

Victims of cyber espionage were in the United States in 54 percent of the incidents. The next most common country, South Korea, accounted for only 6 percent. About half of espionage incidents originated in East Asia, while 21 percent came from Eastern Europe. The location of one-fourth of the total was unknown, however.

State-affiliated actors were behind 87 percent of incidents, with organized crime accounting for nearly all of the rest, the report says.

The report cautions that knowledge of cyber espionage incidents can be elusive.

"Comprehensive information about 'cyber' espionage is really hard to come by. Organizations typically aren't required to publicly disclose breaches of internal information and trade secrets, as they are with regulated consumer data," it says.

Verizon compiled its dataset with contributions from 50 organizations, including the Homeland Security Department and companies like Kaspersky Lab, McAfee and FireEye.

Other than cyber espionage, incidents were classified into nine categories that cover 94 percent of the confirmed data breaches in the 2013 dataset.

One of the categories, human error, consists of incidents such as sending sensitive documents to the wrong email address or accidentally publishing nonpublic information online. There were 412 cases last year where errors such as those led to confirmed data disclosures.

Physical loss or theft of devices led to another 116 confirmed disclosures. Another 112 stemmed from misuse by insiders or others with privileged access.

For more:
- download the 2014 Data Breach Investigations Report from Verizon (pdf)

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