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Study: Despite Increased Security Spending, Severity Of Breaches Is On The Increase

CompTIA study says human error is the most frequent cause of breaches worldwide

Despite increased spending on both security technology and training, most companies are experiencing more severe data breaches, according to a newly-completed study.

In its seventh annual security research study, the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) surveyed some 1,500 IT and security pros in countries around the globe. In the study, CompTIA found that the frequency of breaches had not increased significantly between 2008 and 2007, but the severity of those breaches has increased slightly. The average severity of a breach in 2008 was ranked as 5.6 on a ten-point scale, up from 5.3 in 2007 and 4.8 in 2006.

"The number of breaches may not be going up, but companies are feeling their impact a little bit more each year," says Tim Herbert, vice president of research at CompTIA.

Almost 10 percent of U.S. respondents said security breaches have cost their organizations more than $100,000 in the past 12 months. About a third saw employee productivity affected by a breach, and 20 percent saw an impact on revenue-generating activities. Nineteen percent experienced some server or network downtime as the result of a breach, and 10 percent paid fines or legal fees.

While most U.S. respondents still consider viruses and malware the top threat, more than half (53 percent) attributed their breaches to "human error," while only 47 percent attributed them to technical malfunction.

Almost a third (31 percent) of U.S. respondents said their breaches were caused by "accidental" errors coming from inside the company, while 10 percent described the breaches as "malicious" insider attacks. The majority of breaches were caused by external attacks, according to the study.

Interestingly, while the severity of breaches is on the increase, most organizations continue to rely on traditional tools -- such as firewalls and antivirus suites " as their primary defense against them. Although most organizations are holding steady or increasing their security spending -- and there has been a slight uptick in the use of different tools, such as intrusion detection -- "it's possible that a lot of organizations are still fighting fires, and perhaps not looking far enough into the future," Herbert says.

Surprisingly, spending on security awareness and training went down slightly between 2008 and 2007. "A lot of organizations still say they are not getting support for these programs from top management, or that training is not a high priority," Herbert says. Many organizations also limit their security training to once a year, or even give it only as a part of new employee orientation, he notes.

"Companies don't see it as a marketing campaign, where you have to constantly promote good practices on a regular basis," Herbert says. "Then, when an employee is finally faced with a security problem, they don't always recall what to do, and they make the wrong decision." Many organizations also are dealing with generational issues, he says: "The people entering the workforce today have a very different view on how to use the Internet than people who've been in the workforce for 20 or 30 years."

The study also showed some regional differences in the security experience. For example, organizations in India reported almost twice as many breaches than those in the U.S., but they reported much a much lower severity of impact than their U.S. counterparts.

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About the Author(s)

Tim Wilson, Editor in Chief, Dark Reading


Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one of the top cyber security journalists in the US in voting among his peers, conducted by the SANS Institute. In 2011 he was named one of the 50 Most Powerful Voices in Security by SYS-CON Media.

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