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Federal IT Security Spending Called 'Light'

Federal agencies have budgeted $6.5 billion for security in 2012, much less on a percentage basis than other businesses and industries, an IDC report says.
Federal Data Center Consolidation Makes Progres
Federal Data Center Consolidation Makes Progress
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The federal government lags behind most industries when it comes to how much of its IT budgets are spent on security, pointing to a need for agencies to rethink their investments as they adopt new technologies, according to a report from IDC.

Many agencies report they don't feel they have enough money to spend on security and, in general, security investments by the federal government are "light" compared to other business sectors, said Shawn McCarthy, research director for IDC government insights and author of the report, "Perspective--Benchmarking FY12 U.S. Federal Government IT Security Spending by Agency."

The last time IDC polled businesses to find out how much they spend in security was 2007, when the average was 19%, he said. Historically, that number typically hovers somewhere in between 15% and 20%, McCarthy said, but he did not provide numbers for specific business sectors.

The feds, however, said they only spend 8% of their IT budgets on security, a number that is significantly lower than businesses, he said.

[ Perhaps government agencies should spend more on security. Read GAO Rips IRS Taxpayer Data Security. ]

McCarthy did acknowledge that it's a bit difficult to gauge how much agencies spend on security because some security is built in to other investments and might not be counted.

"If you hire someone to do configuration management for all of your machines, is that maintenance, or is that security?" he said.

And even if agencies think they spend more than 8% of their budgets on security, they have a problem accounting for their investments--a problem that needs solving, he added. "If they know they spend more, then they need to do better accounting," McCarthy said.

The report breaks down security spending by department and agency in two categories: security products and services for legacy systems, and for development, modernization, and enhancement.

In total, federal agencies have budgeted $6.5 billion for all security investments in fiscal 2012. However, the entire IT budget for the feds for that year is expected to top $81.3 billion, according to the report.

Not surprisingly, the Department of Defense spends more than any other agency on security, according to the report. Its budget in 2012 for security for both legacy systems and development, modernization, and enhancement, in 2012 is $4.1 billion, according to the report, which does not provide data on total IT budgets for agencies. The Department of Homeland Security also is one of the leading security investors among agencies, having budgeted $525.7 million for security in 2012.

What types of security products and services get the most attention by agencies also varies, but software was the leader, winning 56% of federal IT security spending in 2011, according to the report. Hardware received 31.8% of the spending, while software as a service and virtualized services--both newer federal IT investments--received significantly less, at 9.4% and 2.8%, respectively.

Indeed, federal agencies are currently transitioning to leverage new technologies such as cloud computing, data-center consolidation, and IT systems modernization is an opportunity for them to rethink what they're spending on security, McCarthy said.

He's advising agencies to factor security directly into their new IT investments rather than as an afterthought, which has been the case in the past.

"Security spending itself should be taken as seriously and budgeted as seriously as any other type of solution they're looking to build or to fund," McCarthy said.

Our annual Federal Government IT Priorities Survey shows how agencies are managing the many mandates competing for their limited resources. Also in the new issue of InformationWeek Government: NASA veterans launch cloud startups, and U.S. Marshals Service completes tech revamp. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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