You can do everything right and still be a security attack victim

More organizations now rate information security an upper level priority compared to two years ago, according to a study by CompTIA.

But that good news is offset by bad news. Many companies continue to play catch-up, struggling to keep pace with new threats and vulnerabilities. Additionally, more organizations believe the severity level of security attacks is on the rise. For most organizations, it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” the next security breach will occur. Furthermore, organizations can do everything right and still succumb to a sophisticated, targeted security attack.

Across all countries included in the study, information security trends upwards as an organizational priority: 35 percent in 2008, 49 percent in 2010 and an expected 62 percent in 2012. Firms in South Africa, India, Brazil and the United Kingdom place the most emphasis on information security as an organizational priority, although other countries are not far behind.

Data suggests organizations continue to face traditional IT security threats – viruses, email and browser-based attacks and user abuse – and emerging challenges, including social media-based attacks, phishing, cloud computing security and security in a mobile environment.

“Information security affects more organizations on more levels as technology permeates every functional area of a business and more staff members assume the role of knowledge worker,” said Tim Herbert, vice president, research, CompTIA. “As organizations invest in new solutions to enable employees anytime, anywhere access to information, tools and collaboration, they must contend with the possibility of introducing new vulnerabilities into the security equation.”

From the perspective of IT and business executives, factors that make the security landscape riskier today include the rapid rise of social networking, cited by 52 percent of respondents; more reliance on Internet-based applications (50 percent); and the growing sophistication, criminalization and organization of hackers motivated by financial gain (48 percent).

Another new security challenge for organizations is the impact of the recession and economic distress. Thirty-four percent of respondents believe their internal security threat level has increased as a result of the recession, with their greatest concerns coming from departing employees having knowledge of logins, access points and other potential vulnerabilities.

Organizations employ a number of steps to respond to security breaches, including updating security policies, investing in better technology and expanding training. All these steps are having a positive impact. Respondents in the CompTIA study say the security landscape is improving due to better technology (55 percent), improving IT staff expertise (41 percent), improving security policies and procedures (36 percent) and better end user training (33 percent).

“While much attention is given to what’s wrong with information security, it’s sometimes easy to overlook what’s going right,” Herbert said.

IT security spending priorities are fairly consistent across geographies included in the study. Topping the list of priorities are firewall or other security infrastructure hardware, software for malware protection, other monitoring software and spam email filters.

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