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2/5/2014
08:10 AM
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NSA Document Leaks Prompt Security Changes At U.S. Defense Contractors

Three-fourths of defense contractors say Snowden incident spurred major changes to in-house security

The biggest insider threat in history not surprisingly has made a big impression on most U.S. defense contractors, who say Edward Snowden's pilfering and leaking of sensitive NSA documents has inspired changes to their internal security policies and practices.

A new survey of 100 IT and security managers at U.S. defense contractor firms found that 75 percent say Snowden's leak spurred them to alter in-house security practices in some way. Some 55 percent say they now provide employees more cybersecurity awareness training, 52 percent have reviewed or are revisiting user access privileges, 47 percent say they are on "high alert" for unusual network activity by users, and 41 percent say they have enacted tougher hiring practices, according to the OpinionMatters survey commissioned by ThreatTrack.

The NSA leaks also have resulted in 39 percent of these managers getting their own IT administrative rights restricted. More than 60 percent of the respondents have clearances for secret, top secret, or confidential information, and 27 percent have no such clearances.

Defense contractors also are worried about the outside threat: Sixty-two percent say they are worried that their companies are vulnerable to advanced persistent threat-style attacks. More than 60 percent say the hardest part about defending against APTs is the volume of malware, and 59 percent say it's the complexity of the malware. Most say they have the budget for the tools, but nearly 30 percent say they do not.

These organizations fare better than other enterprises when it comes to security, however, the survey found: While 40 percent of other enterprises experience malware infections from senior leadership visiting pornographic sites, according to a previous ThreatTrack report , about 13 percent of defense contractors report this. More than 55 percent of enterprises report users clicking on malicious links in phishing emails, while 40 percent of users at defense contractors do so.

Less than 10 percent say their companies suffered a data breach that they did not report to customers, partners, or government agencies, while 57 percent of enterprises reported it.

"It's interesting to note that while defense contractors seem to have better security practices in place and are more transparent than many companies in the private sector, they are finding the current cyberthreat onslaught just as difficult to deal with," says Julian Waits, president and CEO of ThreatTrack Security.

[A determined user or contractor hell-bent on leaking data can't be stopped, but businesses should revisit their user access policies and protections. See NSA Leak Ushers In New Era Of The Insider Threat .]

A copy of the full report is available here (PDF) for download.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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Drew Conry-Murray
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Drew Conry-Murray,
User Rank: Ninja
2/5/2014 | 3:21:32 PM
re: NSA Document Leaks Prompt Security Changes At U.S. Defense Contractors
Speaking of hiring practices, I saw a story from a few weeks ago about the Dept. of Justice accusing a contractor of faking 665,000 background checks on federal employees, including in the intelligence community. Seems like part of the policy review may have to involve vetting the organization you've hired to vet your hires.
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