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Most large companies are struggling to protect themselves against security threats, a survey from security consultancy NetSec published today reveals.

Failure to patch and update systems effectively after the identification of known threats is the single largest operational risk UK-based companies with operations overseas and more than 5,000 employees. A third of the sample of 40 senior UK-based IT security personnel quizzed by NetSec said it took more than six hours to contain a new threat across their organization. Speed of response to known threats and vulnerabilities is vital in limiting systems damage and subsequent cost of remedial work, so the inability of many large companies to nip security problems in the bud is a serious concern.

Patching was rated the greatest security headache by a third of respondents to the survey. A quarter (25 per cent) saw Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks as the single largest risk to their business, whilst laptop and Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) theft was the key concern for 8.3 per cent of respondents.

Application-level threats are by far the most significant emerging threat for large companies this year, with 58 per cent of the sample stating that attacks against enterprise apps gave them the fear. PDA security (31 per cent) and Voice over IP (5.6 per cent) were also rated as significant emerging threat by respondents to the survey.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act is seen as having the most impact on enterprises’ information security management planning in 2004 with 36 per cent of the sample giving this a top rating. Basel II came in as the second most important piece of regulation with 25 per cent naming it as having the most impact on information security management planning. BS7799-2:2002, the government's gold standard for information security, came in third with just 19 per cent even though it was rated as the best framework for defining companies’ Information Security Management Systems by the security pros quizzed by NetSec.

David Howorth, sales director of NetSec UK Limited, commented: “The findings illustrate that large enterprises already recognise that they are buckling under the strain of the workload created by new vulnerabilities and threats. They are also finding it difficult to resource necessary remedial work in-house. They see new threats emerging and need greater visibility to information about who is responsible for which remedial activities as well as more effective progress reporting to senior management.”

The survey was conducted via a written questionnaire circulated at a First Tuesday event held in London on 5 October. Responses were collected from 40 senior director-level individuals working within major companies. Over 80 per cent of the sample was from the banking and financial services markets. The remainder was from the telecoms, central government, media and education markets. ®

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