IT security more critical now than executives expected two years ago

Business executives realise information security has significantly become a higher priority over the past two years than anticipated back then – and will continue to do grow in importance over the next two years as new technologies and human factors continue to bite, recent survey results have revealed.

The 11th Annual Information Security Trends report, published recently by industry group CompTIA, found that 28 per cent of respondents said information security was a significantly higher priority now than it was two years ago, with 37 per cent saying it would be a significantly higher priority over the next two years.

Fully 51 per cent of respondents said information security had become a moderately higher priority in the past two years, while 44 percent said it would be a moderately higher priority over the next two years.

By contrast, just 18 per cent said there had been no change in their focus on information security in the past two years, with 17 per cent saying they did not anticipate such a change in the next two years.

“Larger companies tend to display an even greater sensitivity to security concerns than their smaller counterparts,” the report adds, noting that 35 per cent of large companies rate security as a significantly higher priority today than two years ago – and that 47 per cent expect this priority to increase in the next two years.

Malware was the largest source of serious concern, having been cited by 53 per cent of respondents, while human error among general staff was named by 55 per cent of respondents as a moderate concern. Some 48 per cent of respondents said malware was more critical today than in the past, with hacking (47 per cent), social engineering/phishing (38 per cent), data loss/leakage (30 per cent) and understanding the security risks of emerging areas such as cloud, mobile and social (39 per cent) also seen as being more critical today than in the past.

Interestingly, the survey found that 82 per cent of respondents found their current level of security as being completely or mostly satisfactory – even though small and medium firms consistently reported less use of key security tools in areas such as data loss prevention, identity and access management, formal risk assessment, security information and event management, enterprise security intelligence, and external vulnerability assessments.

“Viewpoints on threats and the usage patterns on defence mechanisms, when taken together, suggest that many companies may be assuming a satisfactory level of security without truly performing due diligence to understand their exposure,” the report warns.

A particular area of exposure lay within the human factor, with human error named as a factor in 55 per cent of security breaches and IT staff as guilty of non-compliance as general staff.

This included cases where an end user failed to follow policies and procedures (42 per cent of cases), IT staff failing to follow policies and procedures (41 per cent), a lack of security expertise with websites or applications (39 per cent), a lack of security expertise with IT infrastructure (38 per cent).

“The issue may be that companies are unsure how to tackle the problem,” the report suggests. “With the top sources for human error being a failure to follow policies, the issue is one of education rather than technical improvement.

“Companies are finding that they must shift their education to be more interactive, ongoing, and measurable in order to raise the level of awareness and expertise in security.”

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