Executives see laptops as bigger security risk than desktops, smartphones: FireEye

Executives see laptops as being nearly twice as vulnerable to security breaches as desktops and tablets – and just 14 per cent see smartphones as a threat – while IT staff see terminals and tablets as being the most secure, a FireEye survey of security attitudes has revealed.

The survey found that, among executives, laptops were named as the most vulnerable endpoints by 53 per cent of executives and 46 per cent of technical staff, while desktops and terminals were picked by just 29 per cent and 25 per cent of executives and 33 per cent and 18 per cent of IT staff, respectively. Perhaps even more significantly, just 14% of executives saw smartphones as being a key security risk.

Admitting that he was “a little surprised” to see such a disparity between executives perception of laptop, desktop and smartphone security, FireEye ANZ regional director Phil Vasic told CSO Australia that relatively high awareness of the vulnerability of laptops may be the result of years of education about the risk of viruses – but that the low numbers for desktops suggested that respondents assume desktops enjoy an unrealistic level of impenetrability.

“Historically most people think the corporate desktop is not their responsibility, and therefore that it should be safe because they’re in the corporate network,” Vasic explains. “When they think about desktops, they think about the overall security posture of the organisation – and so when they’re accessing a desktop inside the corporate environment, they perhaps believe that they’re safe.”

IT executives showed more consistent levels of concern across the different types of computing devices, but their concern about smartphones was notably higher than that amongst executives: 23 per cent of IT staff and 14 per cent of executives nominated smartphones as a key point of security vulnerability.

This broad gulf in perception reflects an ongoing lack of education amongst executives, says Vasic: “There is an underlying understanding that they’ve got an issue, but there clearly needs to be a greater understanding that mobile devices are another vulnerability point from a network security perspective.”

Explosive growth in smartphone usage has made them increasingly attractive targets for malware authors, to the point that some experts are arguing that have been linked to as much as 91 per cent of all malware infections – and found IT staff were half again as likely to believe that their company was unprepared to fight them.

One in three executives responding to the FireEye survey said their organisation is not protected from spear phishing and an additional 15 per cent weren’t sure, while 45 per cent of technicians believed the organisation wasn’t ready and an additional 10 per cent weren’t sure.

Of those who argued the company was not ready to fight spear phishing, 43 per cent of technicians and 42 per cent of executives believed it was due to a lack of appropriate technologies, while 32 per cent blamed a lack of employee training and awareness and 22 per cent said it was not a priority. Executives were slightly more likely to blame a lack of employee training (38 per cent), with 19 per cent saying it wasn’t a priority.

Such attitudes reflected the growing need for transparency in user and executive education around malware, as well as a broader environment in which vulnerabilities were openly discussed and promoted. “Different organisations have different structures to try and ensure the problem is being dealt with in an ongoing fashion,” Vasic says, noting that efforts towards mandatory breach-disclosure laws would raise awareness amongst those still unaware of their organisation’s IT-security posture.

“The new legislation going towards Parliament will help in terms of managing disclosure for a safer security environment will certainly help, “ he says, “and will drive not only awareness but also greater responsibility and accountability, as organisations deal with the security not only of their intellectual property but their customer information as well.”

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