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The enemy within

Geeks, squatters and saboteurs threaten corporate security

SANS - Survey on application security programs

Workers across Europe are continuing to place their own companies at risk from information security attacks. This 'threat from within' is undermining the investments organisations make to defend against security threats, according to a study by security firm McAfee.

The survey, conducted by ICM Research, produced evidence of both ignorance and negligence over the use of company IT resources. One in five workers (21 per cent) let family and friends use company laptops and PCs to access the internet, dramatically increasing the chances of infection of the device and potentially the corporate network. This behaviour also exposes work documents to prying eyes as well as increased malware infestation risks through use of a potentially unprotected home network connection.

Naturally McAfee has a vested interest in talking up this kind of threat but its findings on how workers use company laptops are nonetheless worthy of note.

More than half (51 per cent) connect their own devices or gadgets to their work PC and a quarter of these do so every day. Around 60 per cent admit to storing personal content on their work PC. One in ten confessed to downloading content at work they shouldn’t. Spanish workers were the worst offenders at this with just under one in five (18 per cent) admitting to downloading inappropriate content, behaviour that leaves firms at heightened risk to both security attacks and legal sanctions.

Two thirds (62 per cent) of those quizzed admitted they have a very limited knowledge of IT Security. More than half (51 per cent) of those polled had no idea how to update the anti-virus protection on their company PC.

Most errant workers put their firm at risk through either complacency or ignorance but a small minority are believed to be actively seeking to damage the company from within. Five per cent of those questioned say they have accessed areas of their IT system they shouldn’t have (including access to HR and accounting files) while a very small number admitted to stealing information from company servers.

Based on its survey, McAfee has identified four types of employees who put their workplace at risk:

  • The Security Softie – This group comprises the vast majority of employees. They have a very limited knowledge of security and put their business at risk through using their work computer at home or letting family members surf the internet on their work PC.
  • The Gadget Geek – Those that come to work armed with a variety of devices/gadgets, all of which get plugged into their PC.
  • The Squatter – Those who use the company IT resources in ways they shouldn’t (i.e. by storing content or playing games).
  • The Saboteur – A very small minority of employees. This group will maliciously hack into areas of the IT system to which they shouldn’t have access or infect the network purposely from within

McAfee said businesses need to step up efforts to educate their employees about safe use of company IT resources while at the same time rolling out technology to ensure that non-compliant devices cannot access the network. Happily McAfee Policy Enforcer, scheduled for release next year, is designed with just this purpose in mind. Other security firms including Cisco and Checkpoint Software have already released network access control software, which is set to be a major focus of development for IT security vendors next year. ®

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