Watermarks used to track data through Dark Web to Russia, Nigeria

How far does stolen data get before a breach is detected? That's the question Bitglass asked -- and answered -- in a recent experiment.

The Cambell, Calif.-based company went on the Dark Web and planted documents filled with mocked-up data realistic enough to pass as real until the point of actually using it to make financial transitions.

According to a report the company released this Tuesday, it took just 12 days for the data to be looked at more than 1,000 times in 22 different countries. Russia and Nigeria headed up the list.

Meanwhile, according to the latest report from FireEye's Mandiant, it takes 205 days to discover the average data breach.

"The level of access after just 12 days was extraordinary," said the report. "Imagine how much further the data would spread in 205 days."

Bitglass started the experiment with a spreadsheets of 1,500 names, Social Security numbers, and other personally identifiable information -- all fake -- and saved it under tempting titles including words such as "ssn_data_employees", "Anthem" and "doxing."

"We watermarked the spreadsheet," said Bitglass CEO Nat Kausik. "You can't see the watermark, but every time the file is viewed, it calls home and registers that its been viewed at this IP address."

So the statistics about how far the files went don't include criminals smart enough to disconnect from the Internet before opening documents, he added.

The files were then distributed through a public Dropbox location and a couple of other sites. The most popular location for downloads turned out to be the Onion-pastebin.

"We went to a few Dark Web locations, please that can only be reached with an anonymous browser such as TOR browser," said Kausik. "With a regular browser, you can't even get there."

The company learned that selling stolen data is really easy to do.

"We noticed other posts where people would drop sample files and say, 'Contact us if you want to buy more,'" he said. "People will buy it and then you just need to figure out what to do with the Bitcoins."

This is the first year that the company has done the study, so there's no historical data available about whether distributing stolen data is getting easier or harder, and the path it takes as it travels the Dark Web.

Kausik promised more details in future versions of the study.

"We have some interesting questions to follow up on," he said.

Meanwhile, the company's watermarks are available for other uses, as well.

"Customers can turn on watermarking for their documents so they can track where the data goes," he said. "That's the primary use of the technology."

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags applicationslegalFireEyesoftwareDarknetMandiantdata protectioncybercrimeAnthem

More about CustomersDropboxFireEye

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Maria Korolov

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts