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Research Sheds New Light on Big Data Breaches

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Artist's impression of a hacker at work.

A study by researchers at the University of New Mexico and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found the number of large data breaches has decreased slightly over the last decade.

Credit: flickr

Researchers at the University of New Mexico (UNM) and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have conducted a study examining the recent history of data breach trends. They examined 10 years' worth of data from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and found the number of large breaches has decreased slightly since 2005.  

The study points to a "heavy-tailed distribution" and indicates the vast majority of breaches are small, with large breaches skewing the average results, say UNM researchers Ben Edwards and Stephanie Forrest. However, the researchers also note the number of accidental and negligent data breaches was holding steady during the same period of time.

"We tested models in which there was no trend in the size or frequency of breaches, ones that had a linear trend, and models in which the size fluctuated several times over the course of the last decade," they say. "Comparing these models, we found that neither data breach frequency nor size have increased over time."  

Edwards and Forrest recommend a balanced view of recent events.  In a concept known as the "Red Queen" hypothesis, both hackers and companies are improving their methods and maintaining a sort of balance.  "If true, rather than an increase or decrease in breaches, we may have stasis, with neither attackers nor defenders gaining an advantage, even though both are 'running' very hard," the researchers say.

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