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Despite Hype, Security Pros Not Panicked About External Threats

Most security pros worried about insiders and don't believe their systems will be infected from outside

Despite the hoopla surrounding the growth of Conficker and other malware, most security managers aren't lying awake worrying about external attacks on their systems, according to a report published today by Dark Reading and InformationWeek Analytics.

The study, called "What Keeps IT Security Pros Awake At Night," offers insight about the attitudes, plans, and concerns of security professionals in a wide variety of industries.

As we reported in our data "sneak peek" earlier this month, the survey shows a marked shift in focus from external threats to internal threats, particularly those in which well-meaning employees unintentionally expose sensitive data. The study indicates that a majority of security professionals now see internal leaks as the greatest threat to their organizations.

Interestingly, despite many reports that indicate malware, such as Conficker and other exploits, are growing at record rates, most security pros are not panicked about the external threat. In fact, attacks from the outside are generally viewed to be much less likely than insider attacks.

Fewer than half (48 percent) of the more than 400 respondents we surveyed think it's likely their systems will be infected with a virus or worm in the next 12 months. Only 28 percent believe an external hacker will gain access to one of their networks in the coming year. More than half (54 percent) of respondents don't think it is likely that a competitor will even try to gain unauthorized access to their company systems.

Of the external threats, phishing and pharming were collectively named as the fastest-growing category of exploits. Sixty-two percent of respondents said they believe these spam-borne exploits had grown "significantly" in the past year. Web vulnerabilities, spam, and spyware tied for the No. 2 answer -- all three cited by 47 percent of security professionals. Botnets were cited as a fast-growing threat by 45 percent of those surveyed.

Although most respondents deem it likely that their systems will be compromised -- from within or without -- 79 percent said there is "not a snowball's chance" that their organizations will be forced to disclose a security breach to the public in the next 12 months. This response confirms the findings of other recent studies, which suggest that companies have no plans to disclose data compromises, even though state laws now require such disclosures and impose penalties on organizations that fail to do so.

And despite the growing number of external attacks, most security professionals indicated their situation is improving. Some 65 percent of security pros surveyed said their organizations' systems are at least a little bit safer today than they were a year ago. Twenty-nine percent said their systems are a lot safer.

To download the full report, click here.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" 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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