Data encryption popularity breeding Aussie CSO overconfidence: Vormetric

Many security executives are getting a "false sense of security" in their data-encryption capabilities due to "primitive" solutions that leave private keys exposed to threats from insiders, Vormetric's local head has warned as new research suggests compliance requirements, advanced persistent threats (APTs) and increasing customer expectations are making Australian organisations feel insecure.

The Vormetric Insider Threat Report, conducted by research firm Ovum, found that two thirds of respondents use encryption and access control tools to protect their sensitive data, with identity and access management (61 percent), antivirus/anti-malware (58 percent), intrusion detection and prevention (57 percent), network security tools (56 percent), and endpoint and mobile security (50 percent) all commonly used by Australian companies.

While the increasing uptake of encryption in recent years was a promising sign – particularly as an enabler for cloud-based infrastructure investments – ANZ country manager Damian Harvey said most companies had implemented it as an on-off technology that not only failed to allow different levels of access to encryption, but left keys exposed for potential compromise by malware or deliberate targeting.

"A number of years ago, encryption was quite binary," Harvey told CSO Australia. "People thought that since their data was encrypted, they were safe. But now we have attacks coming in in a more intelligent way, and they're gathering information. Our research shows that CSOs are terrified of uneducated users of sensitive information."

Indeed, just 9 percent of the 183 surveyed Australian IT and security managers said they felt safe from a security attack and 48 percent said that insider threats are more difficult to detect than they were in 2012. Everyday users were named as the biggest threat – by 45 percent of respondents – while third-party contractors (44 percent), business partners (38 percent) and IT administrators (37 percent) were also posing problems.

Cloud services presented concerns for respondents, with 68 percent saying they were concerned about a lack of visibility into service provider and cloud provider facilities, 64 percent concerned about the potential for unauthorised third party access and 61 percent citing a lack of control over where data is held.

Big-data initiatives were also a concern, with 73 percent worried about the security reports holding sensitive information and 70 percent worried that mixing data from different countries could lead to violations of privacy regulations.

While high adoption of encryption had boosted security to some extent, it had also, Harvey warned, made Australian security and IT managers overconfident in the overall security of their data.

Whereas 47 percent of US organisations and 26 percent of European organisations felt vulnerable to an insider attack, just 19 percent of Australian respondents said they felt the same.

Read more: Microsoft updates four key workarounds for Internet Explorer 0day attacks

Similarly, whereas 63 percent of US organisations are concerned with the abuse of privileged user access rights, just 37 percent of Australian respondents indicated similar concerns.

Just because Australians are more confident than their overseas peers, Harvey said, doesn't mean they are more secure in practice.

"There is a sense of hubris and, perhaps, overconfidence around the fact that they have encrypted data," he explained. "Even with encryption in place, sysadmins still own the key – and they are vulnerable even though they know the data is encrypted."

"Companies typically share their security systems with a number of mid-tier providers but have no visibility into their security infrastructure. As with everything, a security matrix is only as good as its weakest link – and the more alliances and business partners you have, the greater the attack vector."

Read more: The week in security: Hackers targeting cloud as vendors fund OpenSSL fixes

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