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Enterprises Struggle to Identify Sources of Risk

Security remains top priority, but businesses wrestle with business case, BT study says

Enterprises are putting a good deal of emphasis on risk management these days, but they don't all agree on how to measure risk, according to a new industry study.

The annual security study, which will be published Friday by service provider BT, offers a look at enterprise security priorities and perceived threats. The upshot: Although managing risk has become an important thread in IT security, making a business case for security technology is still a challenge.

In the survey, 83 percent of enterprises placed "improving security" among their top priorities for the next 12 months. Twenty-two percent said it is their first priority. More than a third of respondents plan to implement risk management tools across all of their business units in the next 12 months; another 26 percent will implement such tools with some business units.

But identifying the source of the risk -- and making a business case for investing in the technology required to reduce it -- remain elusive targets for many enterprises, the study says.

For one thing, the fear of internal attacks seems to have diminished over the past two years. In 2006, about 40 percent of respondents said internal attacks were their top concern; that figure has dropped to 33 percent. In 2006, some 37 percent of executives felt that internal attacks were the most potentially damaging or costly; that figure has dropped to 35 percent.

"It seems that the pendulum, which had swung toward internal concerns, is now swinging the other way," says Dustin Owens, one of the leaders of the security research project.

At the same time, however, executives who responded to the survey indicated that end users remain the weakest link in the security chain. Thirty percent of respondents indicated that "inadequately trained/unconcerned users" are their biggest concern when evaluating potential security breaches.

"Given all the attention that's been paid to user awareness in the past few years, it's sort of surprising that the user issue continues to be such a big part of the problem," says Rick Blum, director of strategic marketing at BT. "It's proof that security awareness training can only get you so far."

And despite heavy emphasis on security issues, many organizations still don't review their environments for potential vulnerabilities as often as they should, according to the study. Only about 48 percent of enterprises said they evaluate their security postures as often as four times a year.

Part of the problem is that security pros need to do a better job of making a business case, the study says. "This will require quantifying the potential cost of data loss as well as downtime caused by a virus or other attack," the report states. "These costs should take into account financial damages (outright theft), recovery costs (notification of affected parties, etc.), and loss of reputation (leading to loss of business)."

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