More 'Snowden effect': Defense contractors tighten access for IT, security staff

IT and security managers at U.S. defense contractors say the impact of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden as the symbol of the insider threat has led to tighter security in their organizations -- and it's often meant they have less access privileges.

According to the survey of 100 IT and security managers at U.S. defense contractors published today, 39% indicated that part of the Snowden fallout has been that their own access privileges have been made more restricted than before. In addition, more than half said there have been reviews and re-evaluations of all employee data access privileges as well. The survey study, published by ThreatTrack Security, said 62%  of these IT and security managers feel their organizations remain vulnerable to cyber-espionage, as well as malware-based advanced persistent threats.

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The defense contractors participating in the survey often have substantial IT security budgets, with one quarter of them saying their budgets ran $1 million to $10 million, and another 23% with budgets exceeding $10 million. Those IT and security managers with the highest budgets expressed the most worry about advanced malware attacks. More than a quarter of the survey's respondents said their staff doesn't have enough highly skilled IT security experts, including malware analysts. However, a quarter of respondents expressed confidence in the methods they use to detect malware and cyber-espionage.

Another 'Snowden effect' is that defense contractors are apparently changing how they hire and train employees who handle sensitive information. More than half of the survey's respondents said cyber-security awareness training has accelerated. Nearly half said they have instituted more monitoring of online behavior of employees. However, 23%  said "nothing has changed" since the Snowden affair hit the news.

The IT and security managers say they still have to fight risky practices among defense contractor executives. For instance, 40% said they've had to remove malware after executives clicked on malicious links in a phishing e-mail, while 33% dealt with infected devices ranging from USB drives to smartphones to PCs. In addition, 14% said they had to remove malware after an executive let a family member use a company-owned device, and 13% removed malware caused by an infected pornographic website.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail:

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