Hackers made off with at least 285 million electronic records in 2008, more than in the four previous years combined, according to a new study that shows identity thieves are getting better at exploiting careless mistakes that leave organizations vulnerable to attack, reports the Associated Press. The number comes from a study of 90 data breaches investigated by Verizon Communications Inc., which is hired to do a post-mortem on most big computer intrusions. The company found that 90 percent of the breaches it investigated could have been avoided with basic security measures. One of those is recognizing how valuable so-called "non-critical" computers are to hackers. Peter Tippett, vice president of research and intelligence for Verizon’s business security solutions division, says criminals aren’t looking to crash through the front door with a brazen computer attack. Often they’re content to feel around the edges and look for vulnerabilities that can get them in through the equivalent of a side window. Even by tapping into computers of low-level employees who don’t handle sensitive data, hackers can get a toehold for installing more malicious software that scans the network traffic and looks for vulnerabilities in other computers…

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