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Endpoint Freedoms Leaving Businesses Vulnerable To Attack

New survey finds IT professionals concerned about targeted attacks, but doing little to lock down weak links in their endpoints
IT security pros by far are worried about that three-letter word "APT," but are leaving gaping holes in their infrastructures at the endpoint, where those targeted attacks by advanced persistent threat actors typically are hatched.

Bit9 today released its annual Endpoint Security Survey, which found enterprises giving half of their end users machine-administrative rights, and enacting little or no oversight on software downloads, removable storage, and security policy enforcement. "While executives are most concerned about APT attacks, 60 percent of companies surveyed employ an honor system or a written policy -- based on this past year’s disconcerting data breaches, it’s clear that this is not an effective way to secure endpoints and protect against downloading software, which is how APT attacks enter a network," says Dan Brown, director of security research at Bit9, an endpoint and whitelisting security vendor.

About 28 percent of the more than 750 surveyed IT pros said their biggest worry was an employee stealing and posting online their company's confidential information; 26 percent, one of their vendors getting hacked (think Epsilon); and 25 percent, cloud application breaches.

They may have worries, but they're still giving end users a lot of leeway: 60 percent say they either have an honor system for users downloading software or an open environment with no policy at all. More than half let their employees download and install software on their own.

And nearly 80 percent let their users bring removable storage devices into the network.

"We’ve been speculating that endpoints are a company’s blind spot for quite some time now, and these survey results are just another confirmation of how right we are. IT executives aren’t doing enough to protect their organization’s against unauthorized software and malware from infecting desktops, laptops and servers," Brown says. "They need to take a serious look at how they are protecting their endpoints and do more than just have a written policy. Cyber criminals are walking right through the front door -- the endpoint -- and this is why we are living through the 'Year of the Hack.'"

Meanwhile, close to one-third say users can bring personal mobile devices to work and onto the company's intranet, and nearly 20 percent say "unusual" software on endpoints had led to the crashing of the organization's network. Ninety percent say these crashes kept their networks offline for two hours or less, and 30 percent, for three- to six hours.

So much like the results from Tenable Network Security's new survey reported by Dark Readingyesterday, IT security pros are not taking much action to shore up defenses, even though they say they are worried about being the next big victim.

"I think that a lot of IT executives think that it is too hard to truly protect their companies against these attacks because they would lose productivity," Brown says. "But what a lot of them are realizing now is that there are ways to both control all the software on their endpoints and servers -- and at the same time allow their users the freedom to use their computers and mobile devices. It’s an evolution, though. As we saw in this survey, many have not realized the different layers of defense that are out there that will protect them against these attacks."

The full survey results are available for download here.

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