Tech Vendors' Lack of Security Transparency Worries Firms

A majority of firms say they're more likely to buy from suppliers that are open about security issues -- yet that sentiment isn't necessarily reflected in the technology providers they're currently working with.

4 Min Read

An increasing number of companies have identified security assurance as a major consideration in their decisions to purchase hardware, software, and services — yet many vendors fall short, according to a report published this week by the Ponemon Institute.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of those polled in the survey consider it very important for their technology providers to be transparent about vulnerabilities, security updates, and ways to patch security issues. But most vendors fail to offer that transparency, according to 47% of those respondents who said they're not satisfied with the security information provided by vendors. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed are more likely to purchase technologies and services from companies that prioritize the finding and patching of vulnerabilities and the communications of those security issues, the Intel-sponsored report states.

The survey seems to indicate companies are worried not only about their own security, but that of their suppliers as well, says Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute.

"There are so many choices, and the complexity of security has [grown] over the years. What use to be simple is now much harder ... this may be a call for help," he says. "Companies that do security very well are looking for something that gives them more confidence that, by investing in a specific technology, they will be getting the security they need."

The report is based on a survey of 1,875 security staff from the US, the UK, EMEA, and Latin America who know their company's technology-purchase policies. The most significant considerations when evaluating security technology is interoperability issues, installation costs, system complexity, vendor support, and scalability. Yet the technology provider's security capabilities — finding and mitigating bugs — are very important as well, according to 66% of respondents. Yet less than half of vendors have this capability, the respondents stated.

The survey indicates a clear preference among businesses for technology partners that practice transparency and are proactive in tackling security issues, Intel said in a statement on the survey.

"Building security and privacy into products from concept to retirement is not only a strong development practice but also important to enable customers to understand their security posture and truly unleash the power of data," the company stated.

Yet the research also seems to indicate that, while companies have a preference for more transparency, the factor may not be prioritized in buying decisions, or at least not in past transactions. Consistently, two-thirds or more of those surveyed rated transparency, vulnerability programs, and mitigation as very important capabilities for their technology providers, but less than half actually believed their current technology provider had those capabilities.

So are companies not happy with their current suppliers? Or do they want transparency but are not willing to fight their suppliers for it? 

"It's a combination of the two," says Ponemon. "They see the lack of transparency in their universe and they know that causes all sorts of problems," but they — for whatever reason — have not made it a priority to date.

Instead, some other factors seem to trump transparency in purchasing products. The two most important factors in endpoint and network IT solutions, according to the survey, are improved productivity and interoperability. The metrics used to measure the economic benefits of security technologies appear to support these priorities, with return on investment the most significant factor (58%), followed by the decrease in false positive rates (48%) and the total cost of ownership (46%) ranking as the most common considerations. 

Ponemon sees the shift to more mature security programs, transparency on security issues, and collaboration with clients as part of a slow evolution for the industry.

"The industry has come a long way," he says. "Ten years ago, if you talked about transparency, you would be laughed out on the street because [for the vendor] it was all about selling and making huge amounts of money. Now there is a general awakening in the industry that they have to collaborate with others and be a good player, and if you are not a good player, you will eventually be ostracized."

About the Author(s)

Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer

Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline Journalism (Online) in 2003 for coverage of the Blaster worm. Crunches numbers on various trends using Python and R. Recent reports include analyses of the shortage in cybersecurity workers and annual vulnerability trends.

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