The Ponemon Institute has released the the results of a study conducted to determine what IT and IT security practitioners in the US, UK, France and Germany think about how well their organizations are responding to threats against network security. Sponsored by Juniper Networks, they believe the research is important because “it can provide insights from those who are dealing daily with the prevention and detection of these attacks. Specifically, what do they think about the current threat landscape and what are the most effective strategies to keep networks secure”.

Some of the topics addressed include:

  • Are threats to network security increasing in frequency and sophistication?
  • Is their organization’s IT infrastructure secure enough to prevent successful attacks?
  • What is the nature of the attacks and are the attackers and attack vectors known?
  • Do organizations see complexity as a barrier to effective enterprise-wide network security?

They surveyed 583 IT and IT security practitioners in there US with an average of 9.57 years of experience. More than half (51 percent) are employed by organizations with more than 5,000 employees.

The study found the number of successful network security breaches over the past 12 months were:

None 10%
1 time 21%
2 to 3 Times 32%
4 to 5 Times 18%
More than 5 times 9%
Cannot determine 10%

Some of the most salient findings are as follows:

The financial impact of a security breach can be severe. According to 41% of respondents, the financial impact of these breaches was $500,000 or more. However, 16% cannot determine the amount. Respondents were asked to consider cash outlays, internal labor, overhead, business disruption, revenue losses and other expenses.

Security breaches most often occur at off-site locations but the origin is not often known. Mobile devices and outsourcing to third parties or business partners seem to be putting organizations at the most risk for a security breach. 28% say the breaches occurred remotely and 27% say it was at a third party or business partner location.

Attacks are coming from external agents but insider abuse is prevalent. External agents and insiders (employees) are most commonly behind the security breaches according to 55% and 49% of respondents, respectively. Respondents also report that multiple sources can be blamed for the breaches.

Employee mobile devices and laptops are seen as the most likely endpoint from which serious cyber attacks are unleashed against a company. 34% of respondents say attacks occurred from infected laptops or remotely due to an employee’s insecure mobile device. Further, the top two endpoints from which these breaches occurred are employees’ laptop computers (34%) and employees’ mobile devices (29%). 28% say it is employees’ desktop computers.

Complexity and availability of resources are the most serious challenges to combating cyber attacks. 48% cite complexity as one of their biggest challenges to implementing network security solutions. The same percentage of respondents 48% says it is resource constraints. These challenges are followed by lack of employee awareness, which contributes to the insider risk. In addition to simplifying their security operations and increasing available resources, organizations should consider the importance of training and awareness.

Attacks are becoming more frequent and severe. IT practitioners in the study are worried about continuing and more serious attacks. 78% of respondents say there has been a significant increase in the frequency of cyber attacks during the 12 months, and 77% say these attacks have become more severe or difficult to detect, or contain.

Given the current threat landscape, organizations should make prevention and detection of security breaches a primary focus. Only 32% of respondents say their primary focus or approach to network security is on preventing attacks. 16% say it is on fast detection and containment and 15% say it is on network intelligence. 23% say their network security strategy is to baseline their approach against best practices and 14% say it is IT governance.

Ponemon’s Conclusions

They believe their research provides evidence that many organizations are lacking the right strategy to prevent cyber attacks against networks and enterprise systems. Their study suggests conventional network security methods need to improve in order to curtail internal and external threats.

They believe organizations should consider incorporating the following recommendations in their network security strategy:

  • Understand the risk employees’ mobile devices create in the workplace. In addition to problems created when inappropriately being connected to the network, breaches involving lost or stolen laptop computers or other mobile data-bearing devices remain a consistent and expensive threat. According to Ponemon Institute’s 2010 Annual Cost of a Data Breach Study, 35 percent of organizations report that a lost or stolen mobile device caused the data breach they experienced.
  • Create a comprehensive policy (including detailed guidelines) for all employees and contractors who use mobile devices in the workplace. The policy should address the risks associated with each device and the security procedures that should be followed. Guidelines can range from such topics as to what types of data should not be stored on these devices, how to determine if an application can be safely downloaded and how to report a lost or stolen device.
  • Improve ability through expertise and enabling technologies to detect and prevent breaches. Understanding the source of the breaches can help organizations strengthen their cyber security strategy.
  • Address the insider threat through the creation of an enterprise wide security policy that includes the responsibilities of employees to help protect network security. The policy should be easily accessible. In addition, there should be a training and awareness program to ensure employees understand the various risks to the network and how they can contribute to preventing security breaches.
  • Complexity is recognized as a barrier to effective network security strategy. Organizations should assess their current procedures and technologies to understand how best to streamline their approach and have an end-to-end (holistic) approach to network security. The studies consistently show that the cost of cyber attacks is increasing. Reducing an organization’s vulnerability to such attacks through the combination of proper staffing, enabling technologies and training programs can help prevent the pattern of multiple breaches experienced by so many in our study.

The full study can be downloaded here

.

Advertisements