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12/19/2017
11:00 AM
Simon Marshall
Simon Marshall
Simon Marshall
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Dirty Practices Make for Difficult Security

Data hygiene is low on the priority list for most IT users, and IT security departments end up cleaning up the mess.

This year has been such a security mess that cleaning it up will be a challenge. And, just as in the real world, too much mess in the cyber world can lead to a lack of hygiene.

It seems many US consumers are not worried about living a dirt-free security existence. In a new report, it's revealed that 95% of us know about the numerous high-profile security breaches that have made 2017 such a security milestone. But only about 45% of us decided to do anything about it.

"In some ways, it's not surprising; in some ways, it's completely shocking," said Amit Yoran, CEO of Tenable, a Maryland-based cyber exposure specialist firm, which commissioned the report from Harris Poll.

"[Consumers] feel powerless, they feel like they shouldn't even bother trying [to protect themselves] because they're not going to make a difference. Nothing could be further from the truth -- everyone has the ability to protect themselves."

Certainly, big blue-chip firms have made a spectacularly poor job of looking after consumers' personal data. One can argue that enterprises should know better. "Protect the information that's entrusted to you by your customers. It's the right thing to do and it's not all that complicated," said Yoran.

Consumers have every right to be upset, but with these breaches making national and international headlines, they could be better securing themselves. Tenable says that more consumer-level proactivity and personal responsibility are a growing part of a picture where consumers must harden themselves to weaknesses and not wait for the next "inevitable' catastrophic breach.

"Enterprises must lead the way by practicing fundamental hygiene and enforcing a basic standard of care for their customers' data," said the report, "but individuals must do their part, too -- both as consumers and in many cases, as employees of those same enterprises."

The fact almost everyone in the US heard about a security rip-off, but nearly half of us didn't take any action, points to a trend. Some might interpret the results as a wave of apathy from the general public -- in the face of an avalanche of breaches from adversaries, they feel outnumbered by, and powerless to prevent them.

Even more of us know that the big corporations set the security bar so very low. Oddly enough, in the case of both consumers and enterprises, simple fixes could have reduced the number of successful attacks.

"These are all failures of basic cyber hygiene," said Yoran. "Apply the patches, apply the fixes. Use two-factor authentication."

Interestingly, about 12% of survey respondents said they knew their PI had been stolen by hackers, with about 20% of people unsure. Given the example of the Equifax breach where PI of about 143 million citizens was compromised, Tenable said that the number of respondents who expressed those sentiments is "not statistically possible," meaning clandestine data is out there where consumers are either unknowingly exposed or where they may soon be.

Apparently, only about a quarter of us have implemented two-factor authentication on our devices during 2017, despite growing advice that we should. By comparison, we're better with not opening unknown email attachments, with nearly three-quarters of us wise to that as a risk. But, we let things slip with unsecured public WiFi access -- only 30% of us who already know it's a risk have reduced our usage.

Perhaps some of it is learned behavior -- we trusted WiFi in the early days and we somewhat still do because psychologically we're minimally exposed for only a few minutes while we're draining a coffee. But about 14% of smartphone users wait more than a week to update apps on their smartphone, or indeed, never bother. That's a gap.

According to Harris, 13% of computer users take more than a week to update their apps, 3% delay longer than a month, and 5% just never do. Given where the majority of current sensitive, complex data is stored, and its greater abundance, that's not just a gap, it's the equivalent of a security Mariana Trench.

Related posts:

— Simon Marshall, Technology Journalist, special to Security Now

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