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Company chiefs are aware of the threats of information security breaches posed by their employees, but are failing to safeguard their assets against insider attack. Keeping control of security will only get more difficult as organisations move toward increasingly decentralised business models through outsourcing and other external partnerships, Ernst & Young's 2004 Information Security Survey warns.

"Companies can outsource their work, but they can't outsource responsibility for its security," Edwin Bennett, global director of Ernst & Young's technology and security risk services, said. "Fewer than one-third of those companies conduct a regular assessment of their IT providers to monitor compliance with information security policies - they are simply relying on trust. Organisations have to demand higher levels of security from their business partners."

The Ernst & Young survey found that organisations remain focused on external threats such as viruses, while internal threats are consistently under-emphasised. Companies will readily commit to technology purchases such as firewalls and virus protection, but are hesitant to assign priority to human capital. And that leads to "damage from insiders' misconduct, omissions, oversights, or an organizational culture that violates existing standards".

More than 70 per cent of the 1,233 organizations questioned by Ernst & Young failed to list training and raising employee awareness of information security issues as a top initiative. That's just not good enough, it says. "More could and should be done to transform the skills and awareness of their people, who often present the greatest opportunity for vulnerabilities - and convert them into its strongest layer of defence," Ernst & Young's Bennett concludes. ®

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