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One Third Of Security Pros Not Practicing What They Preach

Survey shows security pros breaking security policies for convenience, and overall difficulty in making major changes to security technologies and strategies

Most security pros at businesses and government agencies have talked to their senior managers about the recent high-profile breaches at Sony, RSA, and Citigroup, but fewer than one-fourth of them have taken any further action.

That's the consensus of a survey of attendees at the recent Gartner Security & Risk Management Summit that Tenable Network Security independently conducted there. More than 90 percent say they spoke with upper management about the latest attacks, but only 23 percent made any changes to their security infrastructure or took any additional steps. Tenable plans to announce those findings this week.

"It's a lot easier to keep running your traditional security tools. People have a comfort with their tools even though they know something is out there," says Ron Gula, CEO and CTO at Tenable. "They've got some technical footprint, a compliance program ... and they feel they are okay."

Gula says the difficulty with reacting to the next big threat wave is that it's often not realistic to make any major changes to an organization's infrastructure. "Changing access control for employees, changing the technology" or enacting draconian security measures just isn't realistic every time a new breach is publicized, he says.

Close to half of the organizations surveyed say they have suffered some sort of insider threat incident. Even so, one in three of the security professionals say they themselves had violated some internal security policies in the interest of productivity or convenience. "As a security practitioner, it surprised me that one third had violated their own policies," Gula says. It could be minor things like a non-connected fully patched Windows machine without antivirus, for example, he says. Or worst-case, it could be bypassing the VPN or other controls.

"That [data] was surprising, but it was a little subjective," he says.

Meanwhile, insider threat wasn't at the top of their information security priority lists. Why would that rank lower given that targeted attacks almost always begin with social engineering? "Most CSO's already have had to deal with law enforcement and the HR thing already. People are people, and there are going to be bad apples," Gula says. "Most of the people we talk to can detect bad insiders, and that's the problem. They have the confidence that they can detect these insiders."

The number one security priority for the second half of 2011 is securing mobile devices, followed by "neutralizing advanced persistent threats," and then keeping ahead of zero-day attacks.

Around 85 percent of the respondents say APTs are a worry for them, while 28 percent say it's one of the top concerns.

Gula's advice to organizations: focus on the difference between detecting attacks and bad insiders versus preventing them. "If you have a high detection rate and can do it in real-time, is that good enough for to keep your organization out of 'The New York Times?'" he says.

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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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