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Conflicting Challenges Put Top Execs Between A Rock And A Hard Place

Paradoxes in security goals, practices create conundrums for decision makers, (ISC)2 study finds

CHICAGO, IL -- (ISC)2 Security Congress 2013 -- Top-level executives are increasingly faced with IT security decisions that force choices between conflicting goals or \the lesser of two evils, according to a new study released this week.

The study, called "A View From the Top - The (ISC)2 Global Information Security Workforce Study CXO Report," was conducted by Frost & Sullivan and Booz Allen Hamilton on behalf of (ISC)2; it offers a detailed look at the security attitudes of some 1,634 C-level executives from enterprises around the globe. The report indicates that top management increasingly is finding itself caught between choices and practices that are at odds with each other.

Among the study findings:

* Application vulnerabilities were the top-rated threat to the security of enterprise data (72 percent of executives rated it as a chief concern), yet many executives also reported that the demands of their organizations make it difficult to develop and implement secure application development processes.

* Similarly, 70 percent of executives rated mobile devices as a top threat to their organizations, but many reported that they had not successfully implemented mobile security policies and programs.

* The vast majority of security executives (77 percent in government and 63 percent in private industry) believe they have too few people on their IT security staffs, yet 61 percent cited business conditions as an obstacle preventing them from hiring more personnel.

* Despite the concerns they registered over a shortage of trained personnel, more security executives plan to increase their spending on technology in the next year (39 percent) than on staffing (35 percent).

"The environment is becoming increasingly turbulent," said Julie Peeler, director of (ISC)2. "Executives are increasingly finding themselves moving back and forth between security-related tasks and administrative and managerial tasks. They're moving from an environment of symmetric decision-making into an environment where the situation is more asymmetric."

"The threat environment has evolved that has become more complex, but we need to be more efficient in our basic management of security," said Tomasz Chowanski, a senior vice president and security line of business leader at Wells Fargo. "We need to understand which pebbles might be important to protecting the big rocks in our data defense strategy."

Staffing is another paradox, according to William Stewart, senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton. "Enterprises need people with sophisticated skills, but because those skills are in short supply, it's becoming harder and harder to maintain them internally," he says. "I believe we are going to see companies relying more and more on managed security services to get that expertise."

Like riding a cow, security decision making increasingly leaves executives in situations that are incongruous, experts said. For example, most executives said they were most concerned about new threats and damage to the brand, yet they spend a major portion of their time and budget on compliance projects that contribute very little to enterprise security.

"Instead of focusing on a single issue, executives are looking at all of them at the same time," Peeler said. "They can't afford to be focused in any one area."

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add a Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. 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 ... View Full Bio

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