Over 40 billion records were exposed worldwide following data breaches in 2021, according to research by Tenable, the Cyber Exposure company.

As per the research, at least 40,417,167,937 records were exposed worldwide in 2021, as calculated by Tenable’s Security Response Team’s analysis of 1,825 breach data incidents publicly disclosed between November 2020 and October 2021. 

This is a significant increase (almost 78 per cent) from records exposed during the same period in 2020, which saw 730 publicly disclosed events with just over 22 billion records exposed. 

This figure could further be significantly higher.

Of the 1,825 breaches analysed, 236 happened in APAC, with at least 3,463,489,341 exposed records, accounting for 8.6 per cent of the global tally. 

The analysis has been detailed in Tenable’s 2021 Threat Landscape Retrospective (TLR) report and includes an overview of the attack path and vulnerabilities threat actors favour, and insights that will help organisations prepare to face the oncoming challenges in 2022.

“By understanding threat actor behaviour, organisations can effectively prioritise security efforts to disrupt attack paths and protect critical systems and assets. Analysis of the events for this report found that many are readily mitigated by patching legacy vulnerabilities and addressing misconfigurations to help limit attack paths,” Tenable said.

Ransomware had a huge impact on organisations in 2021. It was responsible for around 38 per cent of all breaches worldwide, and 31 per cent of breaches in APAC.

In APAC, 10 per cent of breaches were the due to unsecured cloud databases, higher than the global average (6 per cent).

Further, unpatched SSL VPNs continued to provide an ideal entry point for attackers to perform cyberespionage, exfiltrate sensitive and proprietary information as well as encrypt networks, the report said.

“Threat groups, particularly ransomware, have increasingly exploited vulnerabilities and misconfigurations in Active Directory,” it added.

Further, ransomware groups favoured physical supply chain disruption as a tactic to extort payment while cyberespionage campaigns exploited the software supply chain to access sensitive data, as per the research.

While healthcare and education were the most-targeted industries worldwide, the technology industry and governments were primary targets in APAC in terms of breaches. 

“Throughout 2021, CERT-In issued advisories on how unpatched vulnerabilities in Microsoft Active Directory and web browsers were the major causes for cyberattacks such as ransomware among Indian organisations. Tenable’s research correlates to these trends as ransomware groups in APAC leveraged known unpatched vulnerabilities to perpetrate attacks. The report provides security leaders in India a glimpse into why outdated cybersecurity strategies need to change with the evolving threat landscape,” said Satnam Narang, Staff Research Engineer, Tenable. 

“In 2022, the intensified reliance on digital systems combined with the use of digital currencies will financially motivate attackers to ply their trade. It is important that security leaders understand how threat actors behaved in 2021, so they can formulate effective, proactive cybersecurity strategies in 2022 to raise the barrier of entry,” added Narang.

Staying on top of patching assets is difficult enough given the sheer volume of disclosed vulnerabilities, but in 2021 it was even more challenging due to incomplete patches, miscommunications from vendors and patch bypasses. In 2021, there were 21,957 common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs) reported, representing a 19.6 per cent increase over the 18,358 reported in 2020 and a 241 per cent increase over the 6,447 disclosed in 2016. From 2016 to 2021 the number of CVEs increased at an average annual percentage growth rate of 28.3 per cent.