Prioritizing What Matters Through the Lens of the Verizon DBIR and GreyNoise Intelligence

GreyNoise And The 2022 Verizon DBIR

This year marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Verizon Data Breach and Investigations Report (DBIR). If you’re not familiar with this annual publication, it is a tome produced by the infamous cyber data science team over at Verizon. Their highly data-driven approach (referencing 914,547 incidents and 234,638 breaches plus 8.9 TB of cybersecurity data) helps practitioners understand malicious cyber activity across the industry. The Verizon DBIR shows how threats are trending and evolving, as well as the impacts these malicious actions have on organizations of every shape and size.

This year, as in years gone by, GreyNoise researchers contributed our insights-infused, planetary-scale, opportunistic attacker sensor fleet data to the Verizon DBIR.  This is the same data that fuels our platform and helps defenders mitigate threats, understand adversaries, and focus on what matters.

Let’s take a look at the key findings from the report, what our data has to say about the current threat landscape, and how you can use insights from our data to help keep your organization safe and resilient.

What Say You, DBIR?

The DBIR team provided five key elements in their overall summary, and we’ll take a modest dive into each of them.

Barbarians At The Gates

First up is how attackers breach your defenses. It will come as no shock to most readers that the use of credentials, phishing attacks, vulnerability exploitation, and botnets are all initial techniques that attackers use to breach the defenses of organizations.

Over four thousand breaches in 2021 were initially caused by criminals replaying credentials, launching successful phishing attacks, exploiting internet-facing vulnerabilities or employing botnets to perform other actions.

Given the propensity of credential use in initial access, you may wonder why attackers even bother using other means of gaining a foothold. While there will always be services deployed on the internet with default credentials left intact, user credentials do not age very well and need to be re-upped regularly (usually by breaching an organization to steal them en masse). Make no mistake, they work far too often, especially for juicy services such as Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol, which is why they are used in the first place.

Creds are noisy, and phishing does take some effort to do it well, even when using phishing kits or attacker phishing-as-a-service providers. Scouring the internet for vulnerable services is almost risk-free, relatively cheap, and can lead to remote code execution on a decent percentage of nodes, as Figure 43 of the DBIR shows (GreyNoise provided the data behind the chart for the DBIR team to work their magic on):

Attackers use a multi-stage approach to acquiring targets. Scanners scour the internet for likely targets. Crawlers look for weaknesses in exposed services. More detailed scans look to see if you have exposed vulnerabilities, and, when they do, your system gets compromised.


If you ensure you have safe and resilient configurations on your internet-exposed assets and mission-critical internal systems, plus have empowered your workforce to be co-defenders of your organization, you may avoid becoming a statistic, at least in this category.

Always Be enCrypting

Ransomware also plagued more organizations than ever this past year with a 13% increase from 2020 as shown in our reimagining of Figure 6 in the DBIR. The DBIR’s ransomware corpus is far from complete, but aligns in proportion with statistics from other sources of ransomware incidents.

There were 740 ransomware events in the 2021 Verizon DBIR corpus. A 13% increase from the 597 events in 2020.

As noted in the text of the report, ransomware starts with some action, usually one of those found in the Initial Actions noted above. Ransomware actors often take advantage of the latest and greatest exploits for recent CVEs, which is activity you can track in the GreyNoise platform to help you frame the need for speed when it comes to mitigating and patching.

Prioritizing patching actively exploited vulnerabilities should be at the top of your to-do list.

Attackers Getting High On Your Supply [Chain]

Supply chain attacks have been making headlines ever since the highly disruptive SolarWinds incident back in 2019 (though there have been numerous documented supply chain attacks long before that mega-event). The DBIR documented over 3,400 “System Intrusion” events this year, showing you need to be as vigilant on the inside as you are on your internet-facing attack surface; this ensures you aren’t a conduit to other organizations for criminals. Furthermore, you should have a solid third-party risk management program and some way to track software development dependencies, which prevents breach by those you trust.

A Bucketful Of Errors

In this year’s corpus, the DBIR team found that 13% of breaches were caused by errors, often when it comes to securing cloud storage. So, make sure you mind your buckets, but take some comfort: this particular disheartening statistic appears to be stabilizing.

To Err Is Still Human

Humans likely helped cause some (most?) of the aforementioned misconfigurations as well as many other incidents that ended up as breaches. As the DBIR researchers themselves note: “Use of stolen credentials, phishing, misuse, or simply an error, people continue to play a very large role in incidents and breaches alike.”

How To Avoid Being an Accidental DBIR Contributor Next Year

GreyNoise has tools, data, and insights which easily integrate into your comprehensive cybersecurity program to help keep your organization safe and resilient.

We’re almost halfway through the year, and if you’ve managed to avoid a major incident or breach so far, you’re doing pretty well. But (there’s always a “but”), we should note that we’re also likely to see more groups like LAPSUS$ pop up to use their smash-and-grab model. Plus, you’ve also got all the old-school attacks to worry about. 

If you and your team can filter out the noise, figure out what you don’t need to do, and get visibility into the areas you do need to focus on (while ensuring you have a spot-on incident response program), you may just make it another year without adding to the 9.8 terabytes of data the DBIR team already has to crunch for each report.